BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Work is underway in downtown Biloxi transforming a 14-story Hurricane Katrina eyesore into a thing of beauty once again.
The old Santa Maria Del Mar retirement home, shuttered and vacant since the storm, will become a 154-room, all suite, upscale hotel in the next several months. Downtown business owners are thrilled at the prospect.
You can't see the workers on the top floors, but you sure can hear them. The building is coming back to life.
When it eventually opens, there will be hundreds of potential new customers for businesses like the Biloxi Shrimp Tour. Mike Moore is the owner.
"Obviously, they're going to market it, trying to bring guests in, being aggressive about filling those rooms. These people coming here to have a good time on the Gulf Coast. Be an easy walk across the street to go to a charter boat, maybe take a shrimping trip, maybe eat at McElroy's. This is a home run for everybody," Moore said.
Officials with Barrington Development hope to go before the city's architectural review commission sometime by the end of this month and gain final approval. That must be done before construction can begin in earnest.
Before that happens, something else has to be done to the building. Tommy Summerlin is with LLI Construction.
"We're just shoring up the building, making sure nobody get hurts when our permits come in, which should be coming in pretty soon, so we can really start putting the walls up and everything," Summerlin explained.
A new hotel also means downtown Biloxi is changing, and that's good news for charter boat captain Mark Compton.
"The beauty of this area is that it's developing so fast that everything is walking distance. You don't need a vehicle. To me, that's a plus," Compton said.
Also a plus is more shrimp being sold at the docks, according to shrimp boat owner Randy Lesso.
"It means definitely an increase in business for us for sure, because it would be so convenient for the residents to walk across the street and come right to us," said Lesso.
That word, walk, comes up often, even for the folks at Zeppelin's Pizzeria just up the street. Johnny Bones is the manager.
"It's a good walking distance for people coming in and walking up. We're very high visibility to the street, and any type of revitalization to the downtown area is something good," said Bones.
If all goes according to plan, the new hotel should be open by next summer.
By the way, Barrington Development is the same company that refurbished the White House Hotel as well as the old Casino Magic. That property is now operating as Margaritaville.