Rusty Quave is the longest-serving mayor in South Mississippi with the biggest ideas of how he can continue to grow his small city into even more of a business powerhouse.
“If you don’t go after business, it’s not going to come knocking on the door,” he said Wednesday after delivering his State of the City address at Scarlet Pearl Casino.
During the speech he announced D’Iberville is getting two new luxury-auto dealerships — Mandal’s BMW, set to open May 22, and an Infiniti dealership at Ray Brandt. Also coming to the city are new parks, a new website and a Popeyes restaurant, which will be built next to McDonald’s on D’Iberville Boulevard.
Quave said he envisions a business park with aquaculture as one of the industries, and noted he and Councilman Randall Pelous have gone out and talked to companies, including Golden Corral, about setting up shop in D’Iberville.
The city still has a vision of transforming its downtown into a French market complex and is planning to meet soon with developers, he said.
When Scarlet Pearl opened, the city created what Quave said is “one of the prettiest off-ramps in the state” at Interstate 110 and Rodriguez Street. He directed city crews to power-wash and paint the roads around the exit that were dirty. He said he’s now talking with Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich about pressure-washing more of Interstate 10 and some of the overpasses.
Quave became mayor 24 years ago, in 1993. Eric Lightner, his nominee on the D’Iberville Planning Commission, has served just as long, Quave said. Since they went to work on the city’s economic development, its retail industry has boomed with the construction of Lakeview shopping centers on Sangani Boulevard and The Promenade.
Now Quave said city officials are watching internet-shopping trends to determine their potential impact on the city.
“We’re trying to put a figure on it,” Quave said.
The city also is feeling the pinch of competition. When sales-tax revenue dropped $50,000, he said, they went into “emergency mode” and determined the drop was due in part to two Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market stores opening nearby in Biloxi and Ocean Springs. Quave talked to the manager of the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market in D’Iberville and after the initial exodus, he said, shoppers have returned.
“That money has come back to us,” he said.
He admits he’s unsure how retailers’ trend of closing brick-and-mortar stores will affect Gulf Coast Galleria, proposed to be built on I-10 directly south of The Promenade.
“We’re probably two years behind right now,” he said of the development. Plans have changed from an enclosed mall to an open shopping center, and he said there still is a $96 million tourism tax incentive attached to the project.
D’Iberville now owns the former Mandal dealership, just down from City Hall, acquired in an elaborate land swap. The original plan called for moving the city’s public works department there, but Quave and Councilman Pelous said they are looking at whether that is the best purpose and if the city can make some money on the building and site.
Quave also touted the Highway 15 Sports Complex as a place for local teams and as a revenue source. The $9 million complex of softball, baseball, soccer and football fields will open in a few weeks, he said, and was built without borrowing or any tax increase. Water and sewer service was installed in the area during construction, making the area ready for three large subdivisions Quave said he envisions being built there.
Other recreational facilities are on the way, he said. New paths at Tchoutacabouffa Riverside Park are nearly complete and City Manager Clay Jones said the city will send out a request for proposals for someone to provide kayak rentals.
“The vision and goal for that area is ecotourism,” Jones said. It was developed in cooperation with the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain and with Tidelands funds, and he said, “We’re very intent on keeping its natural habitat.”
Quave said the area under I-110 now has parking for 100 cars, and a handicapped-accessible lift will be installed to help people get into their boats.
Results from last week’s primary election returned the mayor and all five council members to office for another term and Quave said, “We must have done a good job the last four years, because the voters really showed it.”