The crowd applauded Tuesday morning as the first section of the old federal courthouse — dubbed the ugliest building in town — came crashing down.
The excavator bucket slammed into the building several times before the concrete exterior gave way to reveal steel beams, which helped the building withstand Hurricane Katrina, and a maze of rooms and hallways. DCD Construction of Ocean Springs was awarded the demolition contract and has 45 days to get the building down and the lot cleared.
“Fifteen years this building has been standing here vacant,” said Marshall Eleuterius, Harrison County president of Community Bank, which will build a new bank on the lot. The building hasn't been used since a new federal courthouse opened in Gulfport in 2003.
The new full service bank will be 3 levels and 15,000 square feet, with a community room on the top floor along with rooftop terraces for entertaining.
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Leigh Jaunsen, architect and partner with Dale Partners, said the new bank will have architectural details similar to other historical buildings downtown, which were built in 1898 and the 1940s. That's a big change from the big, square box with narrow windows that made the federal building so unattractive.
“I didn't like this building when it was built,” said Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich, who was one of the dignitaries to ceremoniously take a sledge hammer to the walls before the heavy equipment was brought in. He was born in a house just around the corner and said with the revitalization of downtown Biloxi is making memories for the community's children and grandchildren.
The concrete from the building will be used for a fishing reef, Gilich said.
“This coming down is the most significant thing this year that will change the look of downtown Biloxi," said Michael Leonard, Biloxi chief administrative officer.
The demolition also makes room for development in the block between Lameuse Street, Howard Avenue and MLK Boulevard. Dale Partners, whose office is across the street from the site and who worked on many of Biloxi's historic buildings after Katrina, is designing the new bank to fit the architecture of "old Biloxi" touted by Gilich.
"His vision for the revitalization of downtown is absolutely contagious," said Eric Chambless, market president for Community Bank. The front entrance of the new Community Bank will face the corner of Howard and Lameuse streets, looking toward the area that decades ago was a booming downtown and now is being restored to two-way traffic and with brick-paved streets.
Community Bank officials expect groundbreaking for the new bank to occur later this year.