Jury is still out on multimillion dollar Biloxi revitalization p - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Jury is still out on multimillion dollar Biloxi revitalization project

Business owners say they have seen little to no growth.(Image Source: WLOX News) Business owners say they have seen little to no growth.(Image Source: WLOX News)
Ten years later, little to no new businesses have been built or opened on Caillavet Street. (Image Source: WLOX News) Ten years later, little to no new businesses have been built or opened on Caillavet Street. (Image Source: WLOX News)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

In 2004, Biloxi residents received a postcard with a letter from Mayor AJ Holloway detailing the big plans for the $6.8 Million Caillavet Street revitalization project.

It was set to be complete in 2006, but before that could happen Hurricane Katrina struck. 

"It was not even finished when Katrina struck. So then it took a backseat to all the rebuilding throughout the city," said Biloxi public affairs manger, Vincent Creel.

The widening project was eventually completed in 2007. Wider sidewalks and better lighting were put in place with the anticipation of tourists using it as a gateway from IP Casino to the Beau Rivage.

But, the missing link is businesses; businesses that have never materialized. 

"The city has not followed through in the part about revitalizing in that we want to get businesses on this street," said Creel.

A 2007 press release said Holloway hoped to see small retail shops, restaurants and apartments line the new boulevard. Ten years later, little to no new businesses have been built or opened on Caillavet Street.

"Yes, there's a lot of vacant land here. It's what you would call a lot of opportunity; people would say we're overflowing with opportunity," said Creel.

Most of the businesses on Caillavet were there before the project even got underway. Business owners say they have seen little to no growth.

"It bothers me that there's nothing there," said Jacob Locklar.

Locklar owns Josette's, a long-time costume shop on the corner of Caillavet and Howard Avenue. He understands what the plans were, but feels the needs have changed especially with the addition of MGM Park.

"More parking, fast food places. There's a lot of restaurants in Biloxi, but there's not too many fast food places around this area," said Locklar.

Quality Seafood is another established business on Caillavet Street. Business manager Jim Gunkel remembers the revitalization plans, but doesn't think now is the time to move forward with them. 

"I thought the plans were good. I think it's still good, once they get the rest of the infrastructure of Biloxi fixed up, because you don't want to bring a lot of tourists in with the way it is presently because it's not going to leave them with a good taste having the infrastructure like it is," said Gunkel.

Caillavet isn't the only road to have undergone a multimillion dollar makeover. The Bayview Avenue project - which was completed in 2003 - was designed to offer motorists an alternative to Highway 90 and spur economic development along Back Bay.

"We had homes on the left side, we even had homes back up in this area," said Gines.

Councilman Felix Gines wasn't in office when the project was completed, however, it's where he grew up. Re-populating the area is personal for him.

"We need grocery stores, we need businesses. It would help the area. Right now we have to travel at least 10 to 15 miles just to go buy groceries. I want to see families, I want to see kids in the park. I want to see a better quality of life," said Gines.

Gines is hopeful it's coming sooner rather than later. He says right now there's a developer looking to invest in that area.

"Giving the city 7 million [dollars] and also right of way to their land. We're talking about a $22 million project investing in this area so we can kind of move this area forward," said Gines.

As for the city's plans, Creel says the vision isn't lost, but it's a project that has fallen into the hands of a new administration - which will take time to figure out how to move forward.

"Some people can probably still look at it and say, 'Well, gee. Was this really a success?' We believe that the history has yet to be written on what's going to happen with Caillavet. We think the jury's still out and it's incumbent upon us to make it the success that it can be," said Creel.

According to Creel, the city borrowed the money to pay for the projects and pledged a portion of the property taxes collected from casinos in east Biloxi. No residential property taxes were used on the work, but there is $22 million left to be paid on the bond.

The debt is scheduled to be paid off in 2026.

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