Michael Giampa envisions a downtown Gulfport with clothing boutiques, loft apartments and an assortment of restaurants and coffee shops. The young entrepreneur is not only talking about downtown's future, he's investing in it. His "27th Avenue Bistro" joins a growing list of new businesses downtown.
The new restaurant fills the lower level of a historic building downtown. Michael Giampa says the grand opening of his new restaurant shows the potential for revitalizing other vacant spaces downtown.
"In the past, I feel it's been very difficult to obtain space in these buildings. Now, the people that own them, instead of trying to sell the entire building, they're looking to lease out the bottom floors," Giampa said.
The new bistro will cater to both downtown business people and casino workers. Giampa says defining success will mean overcoming certain perceptions about downtown.
"There's plenty of room for parking. Everybody says there's no parking. That's not the case. There's plenty of room for parking. Eventually we're going to have to do something to increase the parking but right now there's no problems. And it's a very safe neighborhood."
Owners of the "Mississippi Made Marketplace" decided to take a chance on downtown Gulfport. The gift shop opened last August. Business is steady and the addition of other merchants encouraging.
"There's more stuff coming into downtown everyday. New restaurants opening. New businesses opening. And it's just going to get better from here," store manager Chad Lightsey said.
Gulfport merchants say they are expecting a significant boost in downtown business when the new federal courthouse opens next summer.
"It's also going to bring people from the outside. And once they get here they're going to see what a nice environment that it is and we do have restaurants. We do have nice businesses," Giampa said.
Response to these new businesses will help determine the potential and success of downtown Gulfport.