Hwy 603 Slow To Develop As Commercial Corridor

HANCOCK COUNTY (WLOX) -- Highway 603 is one of the most traveled roads in Hancock County, but it's not bringing as many businesses to the area as was once predicted.

When seven miles of 603 expanded to four lanes 12 years ago, County leaders predicted it would become a commercial corridor - much like Highway 49 in Harrison County. That hasn't happened, and few believe that idea will become a reality anytime soon.

David Reilly opened a restaurant on Highway 603 eight months ago.

"Being in the restaurant business, you look for spots assessable to the high traffic areas. Being on the corner of I-10 and 603 you've got two major intersections."

Reilly said sales are going well, but he believes he could do even better if there were more businesses to attract more people. Over the years, there's been only spotty development along the highway.

"This area has been kind of quiet for a while, but as other areas fill up, people are looking for new areas to expand. With 603 being the main corridor in and out, over time I think it will catch up with 49, Reilly said.

Darryl Malley owns a heating and air conditioning supply company on 603. He said growth will be stifled on the highway as long as business owners are required to build up.

"This area is good, but it has a high flood rate to it. I had to put so much dirt in here to get my business built up over the flood zone. About one third of my cost was in dirt," Malley said.

Roger Caplinger set up his contractor office on 603 a year and a half ago. He said wetland concerns and the high cost of insurance are also hindering development.

"A lot of the small mom and pop type businesses are going to have a harder time, because there's a lot more initial cost involved," Caplinger said.

But he's optimistic about the future.

"Where is Bay St. Louis and Waveland going to go but north? That's the only place they can go," Caplinger said.

Business owners say the recent announcement that 603 will be four-laned north of I-10 to Highway 43 in the Kiln should help generate more interest among potential merchants.