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Smaller communities get spin-off benefits from casino growth

Commercial real estate bright spots remain on Coast

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Commercial real estate activity on the Coast has slowed down with a

number of large vacant facilities in some of the Coast’s smaller community. But at the same time,

smaller Coast towns such as Ocean Springs and Long Beach that don’t have casinos have still benefited

particularly with smaller businesses and restaurants.

In Ocean Springs the old Wal-Mart building on U.S. 90 is still vacant following the opening of a new

Wal-Mart SuperCenter in the eastern part of town, and the Super K-Mart located across from the old

Wal-Mart closed leaving a large building vacant. The Heilig-Meyers Furniture Company in Ocean

Springs, also located on U.S. 90, has also closed.

At the same time in Ocean Springs, the downtown, Washington Ave. and Government St. areas continue

to thrive, and new restaurants are opening on a regular basis including a new Applebee’s that opened

recently on U.S. 90. Business leaders in Ocean Springs have said they are not overly concerned about

the vacant commercial buildings, although they hope that new retailers will be attracted to fill those

spaces.

Bay St. Louis has lost three large businesses in the city with the closure of Winn-Dixie and West

Building Supply and relocation of DeRussy Motors to Hwy. 603. The city is losing an estimated

$10,000 per month in sales tax revenues due to those closures. The Hancock County Chamber of

Commerce is currently considering establishment of a new committee to market the existing vacant

commercial sites, and plans to have the properties advertised on the Mississippi Development

Authority’s Web site.

Long Beach took different path

Long Beach, a small community located just west of Gulfport in Harrison County, also has two vacant

shopping centers that formerly housed grocery stores. While efforts to find tenants for those shopping

centers have not been successful, there are a number of new projects underway for the downtown and

harbor area.

“The Long Beach downtown has really begun to shine, as well as their harbor,” said Brynn Joachim,

commercial development manager, Harrison County Development Commission. “They have three new

restaurants that have been announced for those areas, as well as several small retail openings which I

think are a good sign that the economic benefits of casinos are spreading to smaller communities. Long

Beach is small, but it is well planned and people are attracted to what is happening there.”

Citizens of Long Beach voted three times against allowing casinos in the community. Mayor Robert

Bass says his town has taken another approach to economic development.

“Citizens of Long Beach are really trying to preserve the quality of life and balance that with enough

revenues coming into the city to pay the bills and improve the community,” Bass said. “One of the real

assets we have to offer is a slower pace, less traffic and a less nerve-racking environment for people to

enjoy. That’s the direction we are building upon. We have several planning efforts going on to cement

that kind of reputation for Long Beach.”

In Long Beach a new restaurant in moving into a city-owned building in the harbor area that previously

housed Chimneys Restaurant. After doubling the size of the building, the new restaurant is scheduled to

open in February of next year. An historic building that housed the first Hancock Bank on the Coast

has been purchased and is being renovated to house a gift shop and hair salon. Li’l Rays, a popular

Coast po’ boy and seafood place, has purchased a building downtown that is currently being

refurbished.

“We hope to build critical mass of restaurants so that when people want to eat, they will head in this

direction where they can select from one of a number of options,” Bass said.

Smaller towns at disadvantage

When it comes to competing with larger cities like Biloxi and Gulfport for large commercial

developments, smaller towns can be at a disadvantage. Bass said developers want to enhance their

competitiveness by locating in areas with a substantial amount of traffic.

“While we’re noticing that Long Beach is growing, we still don’t have the level of traffic that will give

larger developers the confidence to come and make an investment down here,” Bass said. “It is

changing on a daily basis in our favor, but it still requires a sales job on our part.”

Although Long Beach doesn’t have nearly the tax revenues that it would if it had allowed a casino, Bass

has no regrets.

“I think we made the right decision,” he said. “Not every community has to follow the same course or

look like every other community. The ultimate success of a community will depend on the directions the

citizens want it to go in. Long Beach will never be a Gulfport or Biloxi, but if we do a good job

planning, we’ll be what we want Long Beach to be in 20 years.”

D’Iberville top of retail triangle

D’Iberville is a smaller Coast community that has wanted a casino, but hasn’t yet been successful in

getting one off the ground. But D’Iberville has seen considerable growth anyhow. One of the most

active commercial real estate developments on the Coast is in D’Iberville at the site of Interstate 10 and

Interstate 110.

“That area is just going to continue to bloom,” Joachim said. “That is a real hot area right now. It just

happens to have the benefit of being north of Biloxi where it is growing like crazy. It is also close

enough to an affluent population in Ocean Springs where it makes them almost the top of the triangle.

D’Iberville can benefit from populations crossing city and county lines to shop.”

In Gulfport the Crossroads Shopping Center continues to thrive, and currently hearings are being held

regarding the Louisiana developer Butch Ward’s proposed Turkey Creek project located south of

Interstate 10 and west of U.S. 49. “I think everyone is waiting to see what will happen with the Butch

Ward Turkey Creek project,” Joachim said. “That is the next parcel of property that could be

developed and may add a new dimension to that corridor.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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