GAUTIER — Gautier was already one of the top 20 fastest growing cities in Mississippi before an annexation went into effect in late February that increased the population from 11,681 to 16,966, and nearly tripled the size of the city from 12 to 32 square miles.
The annexation, accompanied by an extension of water and water services and the development of a strategic plan, is poising the city located in the heart of Jackson County for even more growth.
City manager Jim C. Allan said the annexation was particularly important because the land set aside for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Shepard State Park and the Dantzler Coastal Preserve, is not available for development.
“These are very significant amenities we have in a city that are usually not in a city,” Allan said. “But as a result of that, we have to have more land in order to be a city.
“Those are areas we can’t use for growth. The extensive wetlands and bayous that can’t be developed, along with the areas set aside for preservation, leave less land available for commercial or residential development.”
With the Pascagoula River to the east and the Mississippi Sound to the South, plus a number of bayous, land without wetlands restrictions was scarce in the old city limits. For example, the land purchased for the city’s new high school was 50% wetlands.
With the annexation Gautier grew north to take in the area around Interstate 10 and an upscale, waterfront community, Hickory Hills, located north of Interstate 10. The western boundary went halfway to Ocean Springs, to Highway 57. The annexation also went south of Highway 90 along Old Shell Landing Road.
While the 2000 U.S. Census figure would put the current population at 16,966, figures from Singing River Electric, which are considered more current, put the city’s current population at 19,425.
In addition to providing more areas for residential growth, the annexation captured a major interchange the city can build around along Highway 57 and Interstate 10. The city has restrictions on developing the 1-10 intersection at Gautier-Vancleave Road because of the proximity to the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.
The city is currently spending $3.6 million to expand city water and sewer lines along Highway 57 and Highway 90. Allan said to attract economic development in those areas, the city must have services available. He said previously three businesses that wanted to locate in the area went elsewhere because of the lack of services.
In the past eight years Gautier has seen about 1,000 housing units added to the city including both apartments and single-family housing. And more housing is on the way. The new city limits will include the Navy’s $19.6-million Sandhill housing development located just north of Interstate 10 on Highway 57. The 75-acre development will include 188 townhouses to house personnel and dependents from the Naval Station Pascagoula.
Gautier Mayor Ken Taylor said the new Navy housing development will have a big impact on nearby development. “In five years we won’t recognize all the growth that has occurred because of the Navy units,” Taylor said.
Being strategically located in the center of the county gives Gautier a market area of 260,000 people, Allan said.
“Being in the center we are positioned to allow major big box stores to come in from Wal-Mart to Target,” Allan said. “And the Singing River Mall is still situated nicely so commercial development. What we are waiting on is to have investors come in and actually do the developments.”
Gautier lost one of its major businesses, Kmart, which closed earlier this year. But it saved another major business contributing to sales tax revenues, Lowe’s, that had earlier considered relocating. Allan said city leaders met with the executive team at Lowe’s and showed them that 87% of all new development in the county was happening in the Gautier trade area.
“That has proven to be true even today,” Allan said. “As such Lowe’s has reconsidered its position as to where its store should be. Three years ago they were going to close the store. Now they are considering expanding or building a new store in Gautier. This store is outperforming the Pascagoula store, which is a newer, larger store. “
Allan said city leaders take a proactive approach to retaining and recruiting retail because they believe the city is positioned correctly for economic development and commercial development.
“Part of our need is just getting the message out,” Allan said. “For example, on Gautier-Vancleave Road the traffic volume is 20,000 cars per day and that is more than Highway 63 in PascagoulaMoss Point. As a matter of fact, on Highway 90 we have as many cars passing in front of the community college as up on Interstate 10. That is a significant item because that is one of the factors that people look at trying to decide where to build a store.”
Development of a new strategic plan for economic development is also expected to reap benefits for Gautier. Connie Moran, economic development consultant for Gautier, said the strategic plan is designed to expand, diversify and stabilize the Gautier economy and tax base through attracting and retaining commercial and light industrial development.
The plan also incorporates “smart growth” development tactics, establishing a marketing plan, and strengthening private, public and non-profit sector cooperation.
The five-year plan analyzes existing and projected growth patterns, and proposes a long-range zoning code. With input from an environmental engineering firm, the city also proposes developing a wetlands mitigation plan along Highway 90, Old Spanish Trail and the east side of Highway 57.
Moran said another element of the plan is a proposal to develop a “city identity” concept that would include a central city focal point such as a downtown.
“The City Council adopted the recommendation of the citizens from our town meeting in March to focus on developing a downtown or “city center” as one objective in the strategic plan,” Moran said. “Our first step is to consider probable areas and to develop a ‘master plan’ for appropriate ‘smart growth’ development, including a master permit for wetlands mitigation and preservation.”
Moran said a possibility is a mixed-use area with some commercial “main streets” with sidewalks for connecting the Singing River Mall area to the Gautier High School, a common “green” for cultural events and festivals and some planned single-family and multi-family residential development within walking distance to the retail/restaurant opportunities.
“In other words, attain a friendly ‘neighborhood’ feel, but still be in close proximity to the major corridors of Highway 90 and Gautier-Vancleave Road, as well as being convenient to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College,” Moran said.
Marketing plans call for creating a new economic development guidebook for commercial prospects highlighting the latest demographics and growth opportunities in Gautier. Other plans are to develop a brochure and map depicting the expanded city, and create information and inventory sheets about available commercial buildings and sites such as retail space in old Kmart, Winn-Dixie, and Service Merchandise buildings, as well as other commercial sites.
Gautier also hopes to establish a business and light industrial park within the city, and provide infrastructure improvement actions plans in areas identified as potential sites for commercial and industrial development. Establishment of a retention and expansion plan to promote and strengthen existing businesses is another goal.
Moran said the city also wants to develop an effective Retirement City program which w
include advertising Gautier outside of Mississippi as a good retirement community, and working to have the city recognized as one of Mississ