WIGGINS (WLOX) -- A California investor predicts a "gold rush" of real estate development in South Mississippi. That's why he's launching the largest retail development in Stone County history.
Collie Chistensen joined community leaders Monday, breaking ground for a 120 acre retail and residential project along Highway 49 in Wiggins, across the street from the Wal-Mart. It's an area the developer predicts will "explode" with growth in the next few years.
The mayor of Wiggins used to hunt rabbits and squirrels on the land that's being developed. But now, the once rural field is about to grow a major shopping center and residential community.
As the heavy equipment kept busy on the construction site just off the highway, the Perk band helped set the mood for celebration.
Wiggins definitely welcomes the new shopping center.
"That will bring hundreds of jobs to this area and increase the sales tax revenue by thousands of dollars per month for the City of Wiggins," said a proud Mayor Jerry Alexander.
While the developer can't name the retailers involved just yet, he says four are under contract and there are letters of intent from six or seven others.
"We're going to invest 80 percent of our time and our money in Southern Mississippi. We think there's more opportunity here than any other state that we're in right now," said primary investor Collie Christensen.
The investment means more than increased shopping opportunities and new affordable homes.
Southern District Highway Commissioner Wayne Brown says it means economic opportunity for future generations.
"It will mean that your children, your grand children, your great grand children, your brothers, your sisters will have a place of employment here. They'll not have to go somewhere else," Brown told the crowd.
One Wiggins realtor likes what she sees. It's the latest example of a post-Katrina building boom in Stone County.
"It's absolutely great. More jobs. More affordable housing," says realtor Dee Glorioso.
Mayor Alexander reminded the crowd the once rural place has come a long way over the years. First came the construction of Highway 49, then the building of a Wal-Mart and now this new development.
The mayor told those gathered how he used to "hunt rabbits and squirrels" on the land being developed.
"And I am very proud to be again a part of this history making day in Wiggins," he said, smiling.
Collie Christensen says the "Go Zone" incentives played a significant role in convincing him to invest in South Mississippi.
He predicts there will be much future growth along the Highway 49 corridor; growth that will connect Hattiesburg and Gulfport in the next decade.