D'IBERVILLE -- Plans for Gulf Coast Galleria changed the D'iberville shopping center from a totally indoor mall to a totally outdoor environment that local developer Bob Mandal describes as "a town within a town."
It still will have the water features, a hotel and parking decks but the new plans call for a main street down the middle of the shopping, dining and entertainment complex and a variety of buildings, each with a different look.
"It's going to have so much character," he said. "It's going to be a sense of place."
Currently the 130-acre site southwest of the Interstate 10/110 junction is mostly trees but, Mandal said, "Don't be surprised if you see dozers out there in the next 45 to 60 days."
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Mandal, president of Ramco Development, and other investors expect construction to start on the first part of the Galleria in March or April.
Extensive site preparations will be the first step. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has completed its rebuild of the D'Iberville I-10/110 interchange. The city will invest another $16 million to build five- and six-lane roads in and around the Galleria. The roads also will connect the shops and restaurants on Sangani Boulevard and The Promenade along with the downtown and upcoming Scarlet Pearl casino.
The diverging diamond layout on the bridge crossing I-10 was built in part to handle the anticipated traffic from the shopping center. Drivers quickly became accustomed to the first diverging diamond in the state. "People love it and it moves traffic," Mandal said.
Gulf Coast Galleria has taken years of planning but definitely is coming, he said.
"You don't build this kind of $350 million project on an economy based on today. You build it based on the next 50 years," he said.
He cites an independent study that reveals the potential of the area for retail development. It shows South Mississippi is losing more than $540 million a year in sales to Alabama and Louisiana.
South Mississippi needs to keep that money and the 2,500 estimated jobs these businesses will bring on the Coast, he said.
D'Iberville already has seen a bump in sales tax revenue from new auto dealerships built recently on the north side of I-10, and Mandal expects to add to it. In December he will close on the deal with the city to acquire the property east of the Galleria that was to be the site of Ocean Expo Aquarium. Galleria BMW and Mandal Buick GMC will locate there in separate dealerships on the property, he said.
The city has annual sales of nearly $550 million before the new casino opens, he said, and he expects these new projects to bring it to $1 billion a year in total sales within the next five years.