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Medical facilities, office buildings and strip shopping centers abound

Developers optimistic about future of commercial properties

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — While many cities around the nation are seeing their commercial properties suffer, real estate developers and economic development officials along the Gulf Coast are generally optimistic about the current environment in commercial real estate.

A new Wal-Mart Supercenter project in Ocean Springs, along with a new office building and strip mall, and new medical facilities from Ocean Springs to Gulfport to Biloxi to Pascagoula have offset the loss of some national chains such as Service Merchandise and Heilig Meyers.

Pat Harrington, president of the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Association of Realtors and the owner of Harrington Realty Inc., expects more independent entrepreneurs to open businesses along the Gulf Coast in the future. She also expects people’s confidence will grow as summer approaches, which will in turn mean that more people will invest in real estate.

“When the economy improves, the commercial market is going to improve,” Harrington said.

Oliver Latil, senior vice president of Coast Community Bank in Ocean Springs and president of the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, said he feels good about the commercial real estate market in Ocean Springs.

“I think like all the other areas around the nation, we’ve seen some impact of some of the national chains that have closed, but we’ve had some adaptive use of buildings,” Latil said. “I think if you’ve got a big market you can attract others to the area.”

Latil is referring to the old Wal-Mart building in Ocean Springs that was converted into a Cingular Wireless call center that employs more than 700. He hopes that the empty K-Mart and Jitney buildings in town will also soon be filled.

John Phillips, managing broker with Prudential Gardner Realtors in Long Beach and Biloxi, formerly the owner of John Phillips and Associates Inc. in Gulfport, said commercial real estate is booming on the Gulf Coast.

“We still have a great deal of activity, a lot of growth, a lot of commercial properties going under contract,” Phillips said.

Phillips is personally dealing with some multifamily properties in several different locations along the Coast. And, he added, “We’re constantly getting calls from people wanting to put in restaurants, strip shopping centers and gas stations.”

In fact, Phillips said he has been so busy recently that he has been working seven days a week and into the night to meet his clients’ demands.

“I’m very optimistic with commercial and other real estate along the Coast,” Phillips said. “I think we’re going to do very well in the next few years. All the signs are that we’re going to be in for a good long run for real estate business here.”

Steve Dickerson, business development coordinator for the City of Gulfport, said growth has not been as dramatic over the last year as it had been over the past five or six years but that there was still some growth from the previous year in sales tax collections.

“When you look around we’ve still got full occupancy in most places and the only things we’ve lost are things on the national level we’ve had no control over,” Dickerson said. “We’re doing pretty well.”

Gaming in Gulfport and all along the Coast is also up. And the City of Gulfport is also permitting a good bit of construction according to Dickerson, although not any big projects.

“We have steady, continuing growth in the commercial and retail sectors,” Dickerson said.

The City of Gulfport is continuing to work on revitalization of its downtown area and, according to Dickerson, retailers there had a good holiday season.

In addition to growth in the downtown area, Gulfport has also seen the new Columbia Garden Park Hospital open, along with a doctor’s office complex next door. And Memorial Hospital, the traditional public hospital, has added to its medical complex and increased the size of its parking garage.

“I think as we reach mid-year and back down toward the second half of the year again we’re going to do better,” Dickerson predicted.

Jackson County Economic Development Foundation (JCEDF) executive director George Freeland said there has been an incredible amount of growth in commercial real estate all along the U.S. 90 corridor from Ocean Springs to Gautier through Pascagoula. His organization along with the Mississippi Development Authority and other economic development organizations along the Coast have helped to attract retailers and others to the area.

“We’re attempting to build relationships with national brokers,” Freeland explained. “We want them to know and realize that the (JCIF) is Jackson County’s economic resource. We want them to rely on us for demographics and market research so we have the opportunity to present Jackson County as a commercial county that might otherwise be overlooked.”

Freeland said Jackson County has the purchasing capacity and buying power of other major metropolitan areas around the nation

“We have our hands full as we develop new sites to attract industry,” Freeland said. “We have to have enough to support retail and commercial development.” And, he added, “We have to recognize that quality of life is so many times and so much more becoming a location factor for industry and commercial, and retail lends itself to that. It all has a connection and we’re rapidly responding to it.”

Currently, JCEDF has underway several targeted campaigns in commercial and retail development.

“We have to aggressively site new investments,” Freeland said. “We need to make sure our market isn’t overlooked.”

Like any level of economic development, Freeland said bringing investors to the Gulf Coast is about relationships.

“We have some of the most proactive forward thinkers in this community and they are serious about economic development and finding sites and marketing and recruiting and new investment,” Freeland said. “It’s exciting to be working with these people.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com.

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