It was a year to look back on a quarter century of casinos in South Mississippi, look around at businesses closing and opening, and ahead to the influence of new leaders coming to the Coast, all of which highlight the Sun Herald’s Top Business Stories for 2017.
1. Who would have believed a year ago that Mississippi Power would stop work on the coal-firing portion of the Kemper County power plant and would absorb $6 billion in costs? It happened in 2017 after the costs of the plant, first introduced in 2006 as a $2 billion “clean coal” facility, ballooned to more than $7 billion and the project went years past the original deadline. When the recently negotiated agreement is approved by the Public Service Commission early next year, it is expected to put an end to the long journey.
2. Forty-five years after it opened at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi, the Sears store came tumbling down and an eight-screen movie theater will be built at the site. Premier Cinemas is set to open in late 2018. Changes at the mall are in response to the way people shop these days, said mall manager Terry Powell. Major chain stores like Express went out of business and more locally owned stores, a new restaurant and entertainment venues opened.
3. Several other businesses in South Mississippi closed this year, such as the Annex in Pascagoula, Island Strikz in Gulfport, Winn-Dixie in Gulfport and Old Cuevas Bistro in Bay St. Louis. But tenants also were found for buildings that have been empty for years. A gym is going into the former Kmart store on Pass Road in Gulfport and the new owner of the former Walmart store on Pass Road in Biloxi plans a retail complex.
4. The focus was on the grand openings across the three counties, especially new restaurants. White Pillars restaurant in Biloxi, which had been shuttered for decades, returned earlier this month. The Blind Tiger opened at Harrah’s Gulf Coast, Felix’s Restaurant that is popular in New Orleans opened a location in Gulfport. Chef David Dickensauge moved his popular Corks & Cleaver restaurant from Gulfport to Bay St. Louis. A new Mugshots opened in downtown Biloxi just in time for Christmas.
5. It wasn’t all restaurants. The first new BMW dealership in the U.S. in years opened at Galleria BMW in D’Iberville. Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis both got new Tractor Supply stores and a Harbor Freight is coming to Gautier. Pav & Broome Fine Jewelery in downtown Gulfport is adding a Rolex boutique as part of a $2 million addition and renovation, and many other businesses announced remodeling projects this year in South Mississippi.
6. Among the largest projects this year is the $75 million, smoke-free beach casino at Island View Casino Resort south of U.S. 90. When it opens next summer, the new casino added to the one on the north side of U.S. 90, will give Island View the largest combined casino space on the Coast.
7. Plans for go-kart tracks circled around Biloxi, as work began for Finishline on the site of the former Slippery Sams on U.S. 90. These high-tech go-karts are expected to start racing in the spring. Also planned nearby is one of the tallest go-kart tracks in the world at Big Play Entertainment Center in Biloxi.
8. Hurricane Nate wasn’t as bad as predicted when it came ashore, but it did flood casinos and businesses in East Biloxi and Ocean Springs and shortened Cruisin’ The Coast on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
9. Defense spending continues to be strong on the Coast. RS-25 engine test firings continued all year at Stennis Space Center in Hancock County as America prepares to send astronauts into deep space. In Jackson County, Ingalls Shipbuilding christened five ships and is awaiting the arrival of the USS Fitzgerald to repair the extensive damages from a crash off the coast of Japan. Homeland Security chose South Mississippi for a major drone project.
10. As 2017 draws to an end, the Coast business community across the three Coast counties is focused on a “One Coast” legislative solution to ensure the state’s $750 million in BP settlement funds will be spent in South Mississippi and in ways to best benefit the Coast.