GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - All of the cities along the Coast saw the destructive power of Hurricane Katrina, but one city has been building back better than it was before the storm. An effort by the city of Gulfport brought improvements to its downtown streets.
If you looked at the downtown area at the end of August 2005, you would think you were looking at a war zone, as was the case across most of the Gulf Coast. At that time, many of those who lived and worked here were only worried about making it to the next day of clean up and recovery.
It took a certain group of people to look at the downtown area and have a vision. This group saw the potential to get the city back on its feet and got to work. Lisa Bradley got on board with Business and Economic Development for the City of Gulfport eight and a half years ago.
"We all sat down as a team and said, 'you know, for our downtown, we've got to find a way to stimulate investment,'" said Bradley.
At that time, she simply had a two-part goal. The first focus was getting things back up and running in the city.
"The second part of it being, let's plan smart, let's be intelligent about how we recover so that all of a sudden, we find ourselves in the situation we're in now," said Bradley.
According to Bradley, the number of tenants occupying downtown has grown from 20 percent before the storm to around 80 percent now. Bradley credits that success to a facade program that was made possible by the State of Mississippi.
Around $4.5 million were spent improving the appearance of downtown including a streetscape project and the exterior conditions of 65 buildings.
"Now things are just thriving downtown," said Poem Love.
The Triplett-Day Drug Store has been in her family for generations. Its downtown location was one of the many buildings damaged by Katrina. Love saw her storefront repaired to its original condition, and several other buildings she owns were built back better than before.
"Downtown Gulfport really benefited from the bad thing of the storm. We came out on the other side in triumph," said Love.
One of the drug store patrons remembered seeing the aftermath and devastation of Katrina, but he also remembered how the downtown area looked before the storm.
"The way the buildings look like in town today compared to what they did before Katrina. It's like night and day," said Edward Jones.
Jones felt that the revitalization of downtown was all thanks to the diligent work of city leaders.
"That's what it takes, and they're making it happen," said Jones.
Bradley says she expects to see even more businesses joining the downtown area in the near future.