Developers Focus On Post-Katrina Plans

Commission members joked that Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr spent more time at their meetings than they did. The mayor told developers he invested so much time in the planning sessions for a simple reason.

"We can create the finest place to live that anybody in the United States of America has ever seen," he said.

But to turn devastation into opportunity, noted architect Andres Duany said city planners and developers must adopt new building guidelines.

"The prospect of lifting this coast out of its current economic situation has everything to do with quality of life," the moderator of the Tuesday meeting said.

Mike Fearn was all for that. But based on what the local developer heard during the presentation, Fearn worried that new design proposals forgot about the little guy.

"What I perceive is the average guy, in order to be able to affect what you're trying to do, is going to have to sell out to let the more influential come in," he said.

Not so, said the lead architect.

"What we need to figure out is how to get really nice looking houses to be inexpensive," said Duany.

Homebuilders had another concern. John Ruble sits on the homebuilders association board.

"All these municipalities right now have to act in unison, in concert," he said. "We're concerned that that's not been done in the past. How is it going to be done in the future?"

Organizers of the renewal forum answered that question this way. Cities don't necessarily have to work in unison on every post Katrina recovery project. In other words, some ideas adopted for Biloxi may not fit in Gulfport or Bay St. Louis.

What the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal created was simply a road map, with many starting points, and one basic finish line.

"I hope that everybody will embrace this opportunity," the Gulfport mayor said.

Casino developer Marlin Torguson was doing just that.

"I think I can see a lot of opportunities," said Torguson.

Despite the devastating hurricane, Torguson is still moving forward with a $500 million casino resort on Keegan Bayou and Caillavet Street.

"The reception we've had in the lending community is this is a huge opportunity," Torguson said. "The gulf coast is going to come back way bigger than it was before."

That was the message members of the governor's commission tried to emphasize to local developers as they digested the new building designs being proposed for the coast.