Katrina recovery project sparks excitement in Long Beach

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - Empty lots, slabs, and 'For Sale' signs line both sides of Jeff Davis Avenue. It's a view of downtown Long Beach Shawn Montella is tired of seeing. His downtown building, which houses a coffee shop and beauty salon, is one of the few survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

"Yeah, it's lonely. There are seven or eight of us down here. It's slow going," said Montella. "I want to see nice stuff instead of nothing."

The quiet corridor is about to undergo a dramatic transformation. With $6.7 million in CDBG and FEMA funds, the city is in the process of reconstructing Jeff Davis Avenue.

"These would be intersections with brick pavers. The sail boat logo's going to be on some of the intersections," said Long Beach Mayor Billy Skellie as he shared some of the drawings Tuesday.

Newly-designed intersections, wider sidewalks, and more parking spaces are part of the new landscape. Unsightly power poles are coming down and will be replaced by underground utilities. The only poles you'll see will be decorative street lighting. And with the new City Hall also going up on Jeff Davis, the mayor expects to see a revitalized downtown.

"I think it's going to be very attractive," said Mayor Skellie. "I feel that people who own property here will be interested in redeveloping when they see what they have here. It's been a hard road, but it's coming to fruition now and it's exciting."

Business owner Shawn Montella is also excited about the change in scenery.

"This is going to be huge," said Montella. "A new fire department, a new city hall, new streets, new sidewalks, underground utilities. I mean, it just doesn't get any better."

"We want you to live and sleep here, and raise your kids here. But we want you to shop here," said Mayor Skellie. "We want you to enjoy downtown, and be excited about being here."

The Jeff Davis Avenue reconstruction should be finished in early 2010. Long Beach City Hall is a separate project. Construction on that building is expected to start in early 2009.