GAUTIER -- The doctors who own Bienville Orthopedic Specialists see a three-story building going up on Interstate 10 as the beginning of a regional state-of-the-art medical complex that will attract patients from state line to state line.
Gautier sees an economic rebirth for the city.
The 47,000-square-foot building is at the northeast corner of I-10 and Mississippi 57 and is expected to open for business this summer. It will be the headquarters for Bienville Orthopaedic, a group of 16 doctors that specializes in spine, joints and muscles.
It is one of the two largest medical groups of its kind in the state, with five clinics on the Coast and doctor privileges at five hospitals.
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The $10 million medical park it is building is easily the biggest thing going in Gautier.
Economic Development Director Chandra Nicholson and city leaders see it attracting retail, restaurants, related medical businesses and at least one hotel -- similar to a medical complex off the Cedar Lake Road exit of I-10 in Biloxi. Bienville Orthopaedic owns one-fourth of the Cedar Lake complex as well, a complex that has been attracting specialties of all kinds for years in outbuildings and offices in the surrounding blocks. So it's not a stretch to see the massive building at Mississippi 57 as a beginning for such growth in Gautier.
The new building is the first of three planned. The medical group is being cautious with phases 2 and 3.
'If we build it, they will come'
Still, Dean Thigpen, Bienville Orthopaedic's accountant CEO, speaks with confidence that "if we build it,
they will come."
The first building already is full. About 60 percent will house a major medical clinic for Bienville and its administration offices. The rest will be two tenants -- one a collaboration between Encore Physical Therapy and Singing River Health System and the other Deaconess Homecare.
By next year, the first-floor orthopedic surgical center should be complete.
The building going up now will have a full complement of medical services, with more to come.
The idea is to offer everything an orthopedic patient needs from surgery to rehabilitation. By being along I-10 near the Alabama line, it is expected to stop the loss of patients from Jackson County to clinics in Mobile. But the overall goal is to serve the Coast and South Mississippi and attract from Alabama, Thigpen said.
Bienville's doctors have that level of credentials, training and skill, he said, with a special affinity for sports medicine.
Thigpen doesn't see bringing in such a medical hub to the area as competition with other medical services, but more a of like-attracts-like strategy.
What does Gautier get?
Nicholson didn't hesitate to brag: "People will come from all over the region" to the medical complex.
And as far as additional retail or other businesses, "We've already got lots of interest, just not something we can release right now," she said.
"It's going to bring jobs and that brings more people to the area, which will spur a need for additional service and retail businesses" for north Gautier, she said. "Our hopes is that the whole (Mississippi) 57 corridor will become a medical corridor."
She said medical overlay districts and incentives are something all the cities in the county have worked on to encourage such development.
She sees this one as a benefit to the whole county.
"The more medical you bring in to the area, the more it becomes a destination," she said. "They feed off each other."
To help that will be a major road-improvement project coming from the state Department of Transportation -- the Mississippi 57 bypass, which will four-lane the state highway and swing it around congested central Vancleave. Closer to the clinic, the city will widen Allen Road and add a median and lighting. Eventually, the city will collaborate with MDOT, which will create a better route to the medical clinic. Nicholson said there is 360 acres of private land to be developed in the vicinity of the complex and the plan is to extend Allen Road to connect with Robinson Still Road to form a loop of sorts near a huge lake in the area, and create opportunities for development in style.
Besides retail for that area of north Gautier, she sees benefits for the rest of the city -- high-end apartments and condos to accommodate professional people.
Gautier has always been a bedroom community, and has one of the highest median incomes on the Coast, Nicholson said -- higher than Pascagoula, Moss Point, Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, Waveland and the state average.
The median value of houses and condos in the county is already second only to Ocean Springs.
But even with 38 new business permits issued last year and three new subdivisions building houses, Gautier has one of the smallest operating budgets, with one of the largest land areas to cover.