Are Condos Blowing Into Town Too Quickly?

In the early 1990s, a surprising wind brought casinos to the area. Now, they're whipping up a slew of condominium projects. And every community in South Mississippi is bracing for the transformation.

More than 100 community leaders met for lunch, so they could hash out what to do about the condo renaissance. They all realize time is critical. If they don't have a development plan in place immediately, the condo phenomenon could overwhelm the coast.

"It has the potential to be very good," Mississippi Development Authority Director Leland Speed told the lunch crowd. "It also has the potential for not being very good."

These days, construction cranes tower over valuable pieces of Highway 90 property. Down below, crews lay the foundation for South Mississippi's emerging condominium skyline.

"This is not a blip that we're talking about here," said Speed.

Hancock Bank invited him to Gulfport, so state and local leaders could map out a development strategy for condominium growth.

"The potential exists for short term gain and long term pain. And we don't want that," he said.

Speed believes the best way to avoid the pain -- and the best way to keep out developers who cut corners and cheapen the condo market -- is pretty simple. Follow a proven formula.

"Mississippi probably did gaming better than any other state in the country," he remarked. "We need to do the same thing with this explosion that we're seeing here in the second home market."

The condo revolution started with the Legacy project in Gulfport. And it shows no signs of slowing down. Every city in all three coast counties have recently approved condo projects. And at least 60 more designs are under review.

Those numbers caused Speed to urge everybody to slow down.

"This thing is moving so fast and so dramatically," he warned, "I think it's time for everybody to catch their breath and make sure we all understand exactly what we're doing."

That's why Hancock Bank's George Schloegel organized this lunch, to get everybody in all three counties on the same page.

"I think the condo explosion can be good for this area, if we do it correctly," Schloegel said.

So what is the correct way to handle the condo renaissance? Some people at lunch said a short moratorium should be placed on future projects, so the three coast counties can adopt similar development rules.

That will be discussed by the Council of Governments when it meets to consider how South Mississippi should treat condo projects.