MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Rapid, unplanned development that has come to be known as “urban sprawl” has become a major issue across the country. On the Coast, urban sprawl has meant that subdivisions and retail developments have been built before the infrastructure was upgraded, leading to traffic jams, drainage problems and school districts rushing to play catchup providing enough classrooms and teachers for the growing student population.
All predictions are that the Coast’s population growth will continue to boom. It has been estimated that Harrison County’s population has increased as much as 30% in the 1990s. An alternative to rapid urban sprawl for the Coast was unveiled recently when Tradition Community Development Corp. announced plans for a $1.7 billion planned community on 4,600 acres on Mississippi 67, 12 miles north of the shoreline.
“Tradition is the solution to unchecked sprawl,” said Michael Olivier, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission. “Harrison County will continue to grow regardless of Tradition. The issue is whether we are going to grow in an orderly fashion or have haphazard growth that sprawls across the county leading to groundwater pollution and other problems.”
Olivier said the project will provide local contractors with 15 years of work building a community that will have a estimated population of 25,000 to 30,000. That would result in a community comparable to the size of Tupelo or Pascagoula, the seventh and eighth largest cities in Mississippi.
The Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (MDECD) is providing $20 million in infrastructure assistance for the project that will also improve Mississippi 67 to provide a much-needed hurricane evacuation route.
“There are not enough roads leading north to handle our increased population in case of a hurricane evacuation,” said Harrison County Civil Defense director Linda Rouse. “We need to get these improvements in place before we have a major disaster on our hands.”
The target market for Tradition includes active retirees, active duty and retired military, singles, young families and managers/executives. Coast leaders have cited concerns about shortage of affordable housing on the Coast, so it is welcome news that the dwelling units will include affordable as well as upscale housing. The 12,000 to 15,000 homes will have a price range of $80,000 to $250,000.
The first phase of the development will cover 200 acres and include 400 home sites within four distinctive neighborhoods representing a variety of price ranges and architectural styles. Land development is expected to begin within the next nine to 12 months, with home construction beginning six months after that.
The planned community is the brainchild of New Orleans-based real estate development Joseph Canizaro, who has been involved in New Orleans developments such as Canal Place, LL&E Tower, Texaco Center, and the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Also on the board of directors for the Tradition Community Development Corporation are Roger Galatas, who served as president and CEO of The Woodlands, a $4-billion planned community north of Houston, Texas, and retired Major General James E. Livingston of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Larry Benefield, president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, said the planned community is expected to create $111 million in property taxes in the next 15 years.
“Right now we’re just getting pennies an acre in taxes on this land,” Benefield said. “This will be the highest and best use of the land.”
Canizaro said that the project was originally named Forest Lakes Development. “The name Tradition relates to the values, culture and quality of life area residents have grown accustomed to over the years and hold dear still today,” Canizaro said. “It is a way of life that lies not in compromise, but in commitment to nature, community, neighbors, family and a vision for the future.”
The development will include a 150-acre town center with shopping, restaurants, entertainment, offices and employment centers. An estimated 5,000 permanent jobs will be created on site. Amenities will include golf courses, lakes, parks, pathways, open space, swimming, nature trails, public schools and churches.
About 50% of the market for Tradition is expected to be retirees. The Coast has a large number of military retirees attracted in part by the commissary and medical facilities at Keesler Air Force Base.
The state also has an active program to attract retirees to relocate in Mississippi.
The MDECD estimates that attracting one retiree household to the state is the equivalent of creating nearly three factory jobs. The 8,250 retiree households planned for Tradition would represent about 30,000 factory jobs.
Galatas said he is impressed with the organized efforts in Mississippi to attract retirees, and with the dynamic Coast economy.
“I’m amazed at the world class activities going on here,” Galatas said. “Our marketing studies have shown that this is a very good market.”
The development company has hired Brown & Mitchell Engineers for design and engineering studies, and is expected to spend several million on planning alone.
An initial administration and information center is being designed by Coast architect Frank Genzer. Construction is expected to begin prior to the end of the year. Genzer has designed similar structures for recreation/resort communities throughout the U.S. since the 1970s, including his award-winning Sales and Reception Center design for Hilton Head Plantation in South Carolina.
“Our vision of the center is to craft an inviting environment that will set the architectural tone for the community,” Genzer said. “The design will be reminiscent of the Coast’s traditional architectural elements such as wide overhanging awnings, full-length windows, high ceilings and columned porches. The structure will not compete with the natural environment, but will be built to enhance and blend into the hills, woodlands and waterways.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.