Old Town Can Thrive Without Government Offices

Jenise McCardell is one of Hancock County's colorful local artists. It's her shop's bright designs that welcome people to Old Town Bay St. Louis.

"The state of Old Town Bay St. Louis is wonderful," she said, just before she painted one of her clay creations. "We will become a tourist destination again."

For as long as anybody can remember, Old Town's charm has included an eclectic mix of art, restaurants, the waterfront and government buildings. Katrina washed away some of that character. And it planted a seed of doubt in some minds about rebuilding so close to the water. As a result, there's now talk around here about the government moving out of Old Town.

"No I'm not worried at all," said Micky Evans, the secretary of the Old Town Bay St. Louis Merchants Association. "I don't think it's going to be detrimental to lose the county government buildings and the employees because now it can be one long retail area."

Sycamore House owner Mike LeGardeur-Eastham hopes she's right. Before the hurricane tore apart his dining room, the restaurateur often served lunch to city and county employees who had offices in Old Town.

"We're optimistic. I mean like I said, we wouldn't be here if we weren't optimistic, if we didn't love it. I mean, it's our home," he said.

Just then, his wife Stella chimed in.

"We think Bay St. Louis definitely has the potential to come back and be more than it was," she said.

That optimism extends up and down Main Street -- where so many Old Town merchants believe their shops will thrive, even if city and county offices pack up and leave.

"It's got too much going for it," said McCardell. "It has wonderful people and a wonderful atmosphere to support Bay St. Louis."

Bay St. Louis Mayor Eddie Favre told WLOX News he's been meeting with Coast Electric executives. He's trying to see if the city can buy their Highway 90 office building. That way, all city services can move out of Old Town, and into one consolidated complex.

Hancock County is considering a similar plan to move some of its offices away from the Bay of St. Louis.