Progress Slow, Steady In Downtown Long Beach

The heartbeat of business is returning to downtown Long Beach. Hurricane Katrina left only a faint pulse, but the economic health shows signs of recovery.

"And I think once that water and sewer is in, you'll see a lot more progress coming into Long Beach," said merchant Chris Carrubba, who opened a flooring business downtown last April.

He admits progress is slower than he'd like, but he senses a real spirit of resilience that should carry over into the new year.

"There's a lot more building going on in Long Beach now. Houses are starting to sprout up here and there. And I see a lot more progress coming in the future months," he predicted.

Across the street, there's a noticeable difference from 16 months ago. The historic Hancock Bank building has been repaired after sustaining significant storm damage.

"The first uh, five months, we were real hesitant. We didn't know what we were going to do," said Shawn Montella.

But after a little soul searching, Montella and his wife decided to save the historic building and invest in downtown Long Beach. Her salon has since re-opened, and the couple's coffee shop should be back in business sometime next month.

"We want to be a part of it. We want to be a part of it. We're with Long Beach. We've been here six, a little over six years in this building and been in business in Long Beach a little over ten. So, we wanted, it's home."

Along with the stories of progress and recovery downtown, there is also some uncertainty. Scattered "for sale" signs raise unanswered questions about the future of several commercial properties.

The $9 million water and sewer project could erase some of that uncertainty. City leaders expect the restoration and upgrade of services south of the tracks will entice business developers who might be considering a Long Beach location.