BILOXI -- Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich brought a photo of "Old Biloxi" to show members of National Main Street Center, who spent two days touring the city and talking with stakeholders.
"This is what we used to have and can have in the future," Gilich said before a press conference at City Hall on Thursday.
He held a photo of what Howard Avenue in downtown Biloxi looked like decades ago, when it was thriving. Now the same area is boarded up or houses primarily offices instead of restaurants and stores.
Like many downtowns, Biloxi has had its share of challenges, said Kennedy Smith with National Main Street Center. She and Kathy La Plante, the group's senior program officer, will be conducting Biloxi Refresh, a program that encourages the economic revitalization of Main Streets. The city is one of ten chosen from across the country to be selected for Refresh this year.
Yes, Biloxi needs more housing and businesses downtown, Smith said, but it has the waterfront, the new baseball park and many thousands of people who work downtown and visit the casinos.
"The market is there," she said, but the challenge is downtown Biloxi needs places that serve Biloxi's visitors and also its residents.
It's a chicken or egg situation, whether businesses need to be there first to get housing downtown or the opposite is true. Whichever way it happens, she said, "The businesses are really what gives it the life and energy."
Asked if his dream of "Old Biloxi" will appeal to millennials, Gilich responded, "Go to Austin, Texas." It has a vibrant downtown with a retro look, he said. Biloxi can have the same, "Especially if we connect to the rest of the world," referring to his campaign to bring ultra high-speed Internet to South Mississippi. "There's no stopping us."
Gilich said at his age of 68, he feels an urgency to get Biloxi's downtown revitalized, "I've got a fuse that's lit. We're going to make it happen."
Stacy Pair, Mississippi's Main Street director, agreed. "With everything going on your really have unprecedented opportunity," she said.
The National Main Street Center representatives will return throughout the year to continue to "Refresh Biloxi."