Gulfport Ready To Put New Face On Downtown District

Business has really perked-up, since PJ's Coffee shop opened at the corner of Highway 49 and 14th St. last summer. Inside, the owner has transformed the old, vacant building into a cozy restaurant. But on the outside...

"Terrible," said Rick Camarena. "A lot of people think it was damaged by Katrina. Unfortunately, these buildings have been looking like this for 30 years."

Rick Camarena has been approved for a federal Facade Grant to fix up the exterior of that building, and five others he owns in downtown Gulfport.

"I'm excited. I can't wait," Camarena said. "It's taken a long time, but it's finally here."

In all, 60-commercial property owners will get a share of the $4.5 million grant. On Friday, they gathered at City Hall to learn about the program's guidelines, and set-up appointments with their assigned architects.

"There's going to be a lot of really dramatic changes," the architect told the group.

"We've been working on this for about a year and a half, and it was kind of a pipe dream in the beginning," said Lisa Bradley with the Gulfport Main Street Association. "Once it's all done, it's going to look like an old new city. We're not looking to put anything real modern in here. We're just rehabbing buildings."

It should take about 45 days for the property owners and architects to come up with the final designs for their buildings. And once the projects go out for bids, construction should soon begin.

"It's going to increase business, and the property values," Camarena said. "More than anything else, it will be a true downtown where people are walking, shopping, working."

It could also spark more pride and investments in the downtown area.

"When they come to our downtown, it's sort of not the face we want to put forward, and this is going to change that," Bradley said.

As part of the Facade Grant Program, the buildings have already been digitally scanned and tested for asbestos.  Six contractors have pre-qualified to bid on the projects.

By: Trang Pham-Bui