Gulfport Businesses Look To Bright Future, Post-Katrina

Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr says it's time to make lemonade and take advantage of an economic opportunity that will never exist again. The city's downtown business district is in ruins and the mayor says there's no time to waste in rebuilding.

Debris and rubble are being removed and now the talk centers around getting businesses open and cash registers ringing again.

Lee Lee LeBatard is back to decorating cakes at Quality Bakery in downtown Gulfport, just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina knocked out the power that fired up the ovens.

"We were blessed. We still had a building to come back to."

But so many other buildings around the bakery are in shambles. LeBatard says the hurricane's destruction opens doors for a new beginning.

"Let's start over. Let's put little cafes where, you know, you can walk through and be able to sit in a place and enjoy downtown, rather than seeing vacant buildings. Let's plant some flowers, let's make it colorful. Let's make it happen cause that's what needs to be."

The overflow crowd at the Gulfport Business Club couldn't agree more.

"And boy don't we wish we didn't have this opportunity, but we don't have that choice. So now it's time to make lemonade and there's an effort beginning," Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr said.

Warr says Orange Grove to the north will pull the city through the recovery while other businesses open their doors.

"We're a sales tax based economy here in the City of Gulfport, and the businesses that are out there are going to be selling tons. Can you imagine what Christmas is going to be like?"

The Small Business Administration promises to help jump start the rebuilding with loans.

"These are loans, low interest loans, for businesses of any size for physical damages. The loan rate is four percent and the term can go up to 30 years," Matt Young with the Small Business Administration said.

Mayor Warr says he believes property values are already appreciating in just the short time since the storm. He says developers that have been talking with the city tell him they're more interested than ever before.