GAUTIER, Miss. (WLOX) - Residents and city leaders are hopeful once again that the old Singing River Mall property will be a focal point once more in Gautier.
Thanks to the help of $3.5 million in RESTORE Act funding, Gautier Mayor Phil Torjusen announced last week that the city will finally be able to purchase the old mall property. Calling it a “defining moment” for the city, the mayor said this has been a longtime coming.
“The redevelopment of the mall property for our citizens has been the #1 priority of this administration and we are very close to making it a reality,” wrote Torjusen in a Facebook post. " We are not done yet but ever so close. This process has had many obstacles and moving parts which involved many people.”
Residents in the city have been waiting for years to hear some positive news about the dilapidated property, which has been an eyesore since the mall closed.
Hearing the news that the property will be revitalized brought back memories of when the mall first opened for Gautier resident George Markline.
“I remember there was a lot of excitement around town and it was going to be a big thing when the mall was being developed, and we were all excited when it opened,” he recalled. “I used to ride up there on my bicycle all the time as a teenager and we used to always go up there. That was the place to be on the weekends and it was really sad when stores started closing and then they ended up closing it down. It really was bad when they tore it down.”
After years of uncertainty around the Singing River Mall property, Markline says that feeling of excitement he felt as a teenager is back.
“At one time, there was a lot of stuff going on here. It seemed like it was moving in a positive direction but for quite a few years now, it seems like it’s kind of been stagnant,” said Markline. “I’d really like to see something positive happen again. We’ve been waiting a long time to see something happen up there. It’s just been a big empty field for a while and we’re just ready for something good to happen.”
Developing the Singing River Mall property could have quite the positive influence on this close-knit town. Carolyn Gautier believes developing the property could really help boost the local economy.
“I think it’s going to make the property values better,” she said. “We’re competing against other towns and I think of Ocean Springs, which I really do like, they have some really nice restaurants. I don’t know why we couldn’t have the same type of coastal experience as that.”
The City of Gautier has secured $5 million to purchase the old mall property. The Gulf Coast Restoration Fund awarded $3.5 million and the state legislature’s bond bill allotted an additional $1.5 million. The funding, along with an additional $500,000 in city funds, will be used to purchase the 55-acre property, which was demolished in February 2014.
Right now, it’s still up in the air how the property should be used but some of the plans discussed have ranged from building condos to retail stores to restaurants and entertainment venues.