Initiative Could Breathe New Life Into Downtown Gulfport

Can an economic initiative being used in cities like Jackson and Memphis also breathe new life into downtown Gulfport? The director of the state development authority is convinced it can.

On Tuesday, Leland Speed urged business owners to form a Business Improvement District. BID is where property owners agree to tax themselves then use the money for projects to improve the area.

Three years ago restaurant owner Michael Giampa took a closer look at downtown Gulfport. He saw potential in an area where so many others only see obstacles.

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot of people that have vision to come in or the willingness to take a chance," said Giampa. "It takes a lot of money to renovate one of these buildings."

Many people are looking at how a Business Improvement District could change downtown Gulfport's image. A voluntary tax on businesses could pay everything from beautification to real estate development.

Since downtown Jackson started BID eight years ago "for lease" signs have become a novelty.

"We're now cleaner than we've ever been," said John Lawrence of the Downtown Jackson Partners. "We're certainly safer than we've ever been in downtown Jackson. Office occupancy rate has risen to about 93 percent and in the last couple of years we've opened 10 new restaurants."

Of the 1500 BID programs across the country the director of the state development authority can't name one that has failed and he says downtown Gulfport has several advantages other towns don't.

Leland Speed Because of the dramatic location of your downtown as it relates not only to the beach and the water but to the Grand Casino and to Highway 49 emptying right in which is most people's first view of the Gulf. It takes on added importance

Giampa has grand plans for his restaurant "27th Avenue Bistro" and all of downtown.

"The property owners will benefit by real estate value going up and business owners will benefit by revenue going up and I see this area five years from now being a very picturesque downtown area."

Seventy percent of the property owners in downtown would have to agree to be taxed and they would also determine the rate. The tax would have be reinstated after five years. Jackson officials say they've had so much success that when BID tax came up for renewal more than 80 percent of the businesses voted for it.