BILOXI -- In his first State of the City speech, Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich made it clear there is new leadership in Biloxi, as he took on state policies and delivered news of projects coming to the city.
The Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce event drew 700 people to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, where Gilich got a standing ovation before and after his speech.
He announced the new pedestrian crossover of U.S. 90 to MGM Park will have an old Biloxi look and Ship Island Excursions will once again sail from Biloxi.
He told how he's meeting every week with Woolmarket residents to deliver services promised when the area was annexed, and said a Woolmarket master plan will be ready soon.
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And he pledged that when the infrastructure work in East Biloxi moves south of the railroad tracks, a contractor will not come in and tear up miles of roads. "It's going to be controlled, it's going to be supervised and it's going to be orderly," he said.
During the showing of a 30-minute video he said, "We're going to be progressive and we're going to stand up for Biloxi -- and we're going to work with our neighbors to promote the entire Coast."
Several times, he spoke about pushing back to get more for Biloxi.
"For too long some state leaders have thwarted the Coast through a divide-and-conquer strategy. They play one or more against each other," he said.
To counter that, he said, mayors from across the Coast get together regularly to discuss common concerns "like high-speed, affordable broadband expansion and state BP economic-damage monies."
Among the concerns criticized the state for:
-- Last year, Biloxi sent $7 million to Jackson in Tidelands revenues and got only $680,000 in return, he said. This year, Biloxi wants a bigger share and submitted $15 million in Tidelands requests to expand Point Cadet Marina and the Small Craft Harbor; to build a new commercial marina on Back Bay; and to create a boardwalk, pavilions and a boat ramp in West Biloxi at restaurant row.
-- The state has been eyeing the $750 million in economic-recovery money from the BP oil spill settlement. He said Coast mayors stand together in requesting at least 80 percent be spent on the Coast.
-- The state Department of Archives and History announced grants for 2016 and only one of the 22 was awarded in the six southernmost counties. "None for Biloxi," he said, when the city sends millions in casino taxes and sales tax to the state each year. "We don't think that is fair," he said.
Gilich said it is time for Biloxi to put Katrina in the past and promote the Biloxi brand.
The city saw $57 million in commercial development last year and $28 million in residential building and Gilich said, "I want our 5.6 million visitors a year to talk more about the new Biloxi instead of the destruction from that storm -- a Biloxi that cherishes and promotes its story, its culture and its diversity."