Cities across the country attract business and people to their downtowns with a historical look, says Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich, and he is formulating a plan to return the look and feel of Biloxi’s once-vibrant downtown.
It all begins with opening Howard Avenue through Vieux Marche to two-way traffic again, he said Tuesday during a workshop with Biloxi Council. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for July 18.
“What is more historic about Biloxi than Howard Avenue?” asked Gilich, who showed photos of the street when the Union Bar was in business, along with lots of stores and some restaurants. He agrees that it’s a somewhat romantic notion to think the stretch of buildings, many of them vacant, can return to what they were.
His vision has a modern twist — Wi-Fi — uniting his ideas of restoring the downtown and bringing ultra-fast Internet to South Mississippi. Wireless internet would provide more opportunities to interact during festivals, he said, and drive a downtown that is intelligent.
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Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District and Pickering Engineering are using the mayor’s ideas of the Biloxi of yesteryears and developing the plan.
“If we do nothing it will be nothing, and it will just go away,” Gilich said.
Biloxi has 3,500 hotel rooms in downtown, more than in Nashville and many other cities, and is about to get 300 more, said Kay Miller, director of Biloxi Main Street. She said Biloxi also needs condos and other housing to create a day and night vibe.
Council President Dixie Newman asked if anyone has talked to business owners on Howard Avenue to see if they would participate in facade grants and lower their prices so the buildings don’t just sit empty, as many have since before Hurricane Katrina.
The owners want too much money for their spaces, she said, and the buildings are so large that small businesses like those that once operated there can’t afford to return.