Business owners, residents talk moving Keesler's main gate to Di - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Business owners, residents talk moving Keesler's main gate to Division St.

A busier Division Street would also mean Biloxi would have to make road improvements. (Photo source: WLOX) A busier Division Street would also mean Biloxi would have to make road improvements. (Photo source: WLOX)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

Where will the estimated $30 million needed to move Keesler Air Force Base's main gate from White Avenue to Division Street come from? Officials said they're looking at everything from state and federal grants to possible land swaps.

Former Keesler commander Clark Griffith is on the Biloxi Mayor's committee to come up with ideas to build a new main gate. With post Sept. 11 rule changes, Griffith said the current gate just isn't up to Air Force standards, and he said that's something the community truly can't afford.

This isn't the first time plans have been on the table to move Keesler's main gate to Division Street. When the Desporte family had to relocate their seafood business 14 years ago, they picked Division Street after hearing similar discussions.

"I've got a feeling it would bring back businesses that were here before," said Sean Desporte. "Some businesses went out of business, and others are having a hard time because of the traffic flow. I think it would help everybody down here, and it would help this side of Biloxi."

Not everyone is excited to have more traffic on Division. Some people who live in the area say morning backups from the nearby Forest Avenue gate are a headache. Richard Okoniewski lives on Forest Avenue.

"I understand why they want to do that, but I think for the residents, this is a very residential area as opposed to White Avenue,” said Richard Okoniewski. “I think it would make it very difficult for all the neighbors.”

A busier Division Street would also mean Biloxi would have to make road improvements. Griffith said for the gate to be eligible for transportation grants, Division needs to be five lanes all the way to Interstate 110.

"Nobody has any money, so how do you pay for it," said Griffith. "That's what we're getting into now, and again, that's why what I think the new mayor is doing, Mayor Gilich, is saying there's got to be a way that we can do this. So, let's get the right people together, and let's figure out a way to do this."

The retired lieutenant general said what's easy to figure out is moving the gate to Division will improve base security. He said the land that was once base housing that was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina hasn't been rebuilt and could possibly be used by the Air Force to create the new gate.

"It won't be right there at the railroad tracks like White Avenue is. It's going to be well inside, because the area we're talking about was all base housing," Griffith said. "That has not been replaced, so we have plenty of land over there that we could bring that gate further in."

Griffith said the Forest Avenue gate would only open in emergency situations should a new gate be built at Division. He said six houses would have to be purchased to build the gate. After talking with residents in the area, I found out that at least three of those houses are rental properties.

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