Jackson County

Ocean Springs OKs move to make way for new development downtown

The old Swingster building, used after Hurricane Katrina to house volunteers who traveled to Ocean Springs to help rebuild, will be razed to make room for new development.
The old Swingster building, used after Hurricane Katrina to house volunteers who traveled to Ocean Springs to help rebuild, will be razed to make room for new development. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

It has outlived its usefulness. It is not salvageable, city leaders have determined.

Aldermen voted Monday night to let Jackson County begin the process of tearing down the old Swingster building on Government Street, the building with the lively artwork painted on the exterior walls. The building that housed so many volunteers who came after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild.

The county owns the property and told the city it wants to go forward with demolishing the structure and rezoning the property from industrial to commercial.

The city Board of Aldermen agreed Monday night, but wants the county to leave the asphalt parking area for much needed public parking downtown until the property is sold.

The city also agree to waive the demolition permit fee.

Mayor Connie Moran said, after the meeting, "of course the county would have to improve the property after demolition to prevent dust and soil erosion by applying sod or gravel, according to city regulations."

Moran said the building, built in the 1950s, has asbestos in it and leaks like a sieve.

"The property is well-suited for a much higher and better use," she told the Sun Herald.

The property is worth more to the city with the building razed, she said. And the county wants to sell the lot.

"It's time to make way for something better, with a much higher economic development impact," she said. "We have people who have expressed interest to both the city and the county, but nothing definite yet."

She said the building was constructed decades ago with Agricultural and Industrial bonds for economic development, and was first home to a garment manufacturing company that made choir robes and school clothes. Later it was leased to the Swingster Company that specialized in monogramming, she said.

That company closed in the late 1990s and it remained vacant until 2005, when Katrina hit and she asked law enforcement to "shoot the locks off the doors to allow delivery trucks to unload supplies for victims after Hurricane Katrina."

The Lutheran-based disaster team leased it from the county after the storm and used it as a hub to distribute food and house 200 volunteers at a time.

It closed again, about seven years ago.

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