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Mayor wants to bring residents, tourists to Waveland

CECILY CUMMINGS/ Sun Herald file photo 
 Hundreds flocked the streets of Coleman Avenue at the 12th Annual WaveFest in Waveland. The city has added another big event to the calendar, Destination Waveland, which will run July Fourth Weekend.
CECILY CUMMINGS/ Sun Herald file photo Hundreds flocked the streets of Coleman Avenue at the 12th Annual WaveFest in Waveland. The city has added another big event to the calendar, Destination Waveland, which will run July Fourth Weekend.

WAVELAND -- Mayor Mike Smith, in his address to the Hancock Chamber on Thursday, said his focus for the mayor's office is bringing residents and tourists back to the Coast.

Waveland, like its neighboring cities, has struggled to grow after 2005's Hurricane Katrina leveled the beachfront town. Some officials estimated 95 percent of its homes were destroyed. Waveland had the Coast's largest drop in population after the storm -- 18 percent immediately after Katrina and by an additional 40 percent between 2010 and 2015. On July 1, it was back to 82 percent of its pre-Katrina number.

Smith, who took office Jan. 3, 2015, talked Thursday about rebranding the town to attract more tourists and encourage others to settle there.

"We used to be known as a hospitality city," he said. "I think that's what we need to work on."

In the works

The city is looking at several capital improvement and beautification projects, including two large sidewalk plans for which it received two grants totaling more than $1.2 million. One project will focus on Waveland Avenue. The other, north of the CSX railroad tracks, will link Old Spanish Trail, Nicholson Avenue, Herlihy Street and St. Joseph Street.

"The south side of the railroad tracks is pretty much connected, but not the north side," Smith said. "We're working on making connections in the north side."

The mayor said Waveland recently approved an overlay project on Nicholson Avenue that will create bike lanes.

After he talked to business leaders and residents on redeveloping Coleman and Waveland avenues in particular, Smith said several good ideas were brought forth. Among them were tax abatements for the Coleman Avenue district; an auction of state-owned properties; amending the zoning ordinance; tackling flood insurance issues; amending the sign ordinance; and rebranding the town.

Cleaning up

Other measures to make Waveland more presentable to tourists and residents alike involve dealing with blighted property.

"We were looking at close to 400 properties," he said. "We've addressed about 90 percent of those; the remaining are being brought before the board for a resolution."

Smith said he has also initiated a litter-control policy that created a position to oversee it. That person will oversee the community service program to allow litterers to work off fines.

"I'm proud of this program," he said. "Since it started, we've collected and disposed of 497 tires, 52 of 56 dump sites have been cleaned and over $42,000 in fines have been worked off."

Building back

The mayor said 59 new structures have been built since June 2015.

Recently, Waveland was ranked seventh on Realtor.com's list of top 10 "America's Best Under-the-Radar (and Affordable!) Beach Towns." The median list price in Waveland for a home near the water is $129,950.

They city boasts Garfield Ladner Pier, the Veterans Memorial Monument and Buccaneer State Park along its beachfront graced with large moss-draped oaks, grassy marshlands and campsites.

Although he wouldn't go into detail, Smith noted a hotel and two car dealerships have plans to come to Waveland.

"I often ask people: What are you going to do with your property? Everyone says, 'We want to rebuild but we want someone else to do it first.' But this year is looking good," he said.

The mayor also touted the reopening of the Ground Zero Hurricane Museum and said the city will host its Destination Waveland Fourth of July celebration Saturday, July 2.

Smith said he plans to keep up with residents' concerns by holding two town halls a year.

"So far, the feedback has been really positive. Some is negative but that's OK. Those are issues we need to take care of," he said.

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