"California Rick" leads Gulfport's investment renaissance

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A Gulfport investor and his partners are not letting the sluggish economy slow him down. Friends call that investor California Rick. The man with the cool nickname is determined to make downtown Gulfport a cool place to visit again.

There was a time when downtown Gulfport was a top notch place for families to shop, and businesses to thrive. Rick Camarena heard about yesteryear when he began investing in downtown buildings.

"This building is 110 years old," Camarena said while standing on the second floor of the Kremer building.

Camarena thinks it's time to chip away at years of decay, and restore the area's aging structures.

"I think it's a great investment," the investor said.

Camarena moved from California to Gulfport five years ago, and quickly picked up the nickname California Rick. Through some shrewd investments, he also picked up properties. Six downtown buildings are now in his portfolio. And with the help of designer Bobby Heinrich, he's rehabbing every one of them.

"It's an opportunity," said Heinrich. "We look at opportunities to make things better."

Blending old bricks with new windows gives you a glimpse of what was, and what could be. For those who say downtown will never flourish again, Camarena says, "Come back in three years and see if I'm nuts. It's happening."

First floor brick walls inside the Kremer building are being salvaged, so an oyster house can open there. Second floor offices, and a third floor apartment will eventually overlook Highway 49 and the Port of Gulfport. As Camarena has learned from previous downtown renovations, businesses want to relocate in Gulfport's central business district.

"As soon as we have the buildings ready to go, we get tenants in them," said Camarena.

Between the interior renovations, and Gulfport's facade program sprucing up downtown exteriors, California Rick says now is the perfect time for old buildings to shine like new.

The streets right around Camarena's downtown buildings are all torn up, because Gulfport is repairing hurricane damaged water and sewer lines. If you drive through downtown a lot, Gulfport Main Street leaders say you'll be glad to know that by next week, 13th, 14th and 15th Streets should be repaved.