GULFPORT — For a number of years the section of Courthouse Road from Pass Road to the beach in Gulfport has been evolving as a retail and professional corridor. The pace has picked up with the current rebuilding from Hurricane Katrina. The bulk of that boom is between the CSX railroad tracks and Pass Road.
There are still few businesses south of the tracks as all buildings located in that section were completely destroyed or heavily damaged. Those include the City of Gulfport’s Leisure Services headquarters in the historic county courthouse building and Mississippi City United Methodist Church.
South of the tracks on Courthouse Road, Orangatang’s bar has repaired and reopened, and a refurbished small strip mall, Revelry Oaks, has reopened with several businesses. One of those is Belle Vita, a new ladies boutique owned by Diane Carpenter and Teri Gandour.
Carpenter said the duo had always wanted to venture into retail, and used the life-changing experience of the hurricane to launch their dream. Courthouse Road with its bustling traffic was considered the perfect location.
“People tell us we’re brave to open a new business on the Coast, but the time was right for us,” Carpenter said. “Things are going well. It’s something we both always wanted to do, and we complement each other.”
The shop has an eclectic mix of upscale and designer clothes, suits and cocktail dresses, shoes and accessories. But, wanting more space so they can give shoppers more merchandise, including furniture, Belle Vita is moving just up the street to a new development, The Headquarters, at 370 Courthouse Road.
On the east side of the street, near the post office, The Headquarters is sandwiched between several small groupings of retail/professional office spaces. Developed by the Bell Tower Village, LLC, The Headquarters was developed and built by father-and-son team Gary and Terry Robinson.
It gets its name from being on the spot where Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr’s campaign headquarters were located. The new construction hardly fits the description of a typical strip mall. The two buildings each have 4,880 square feet and can be described as following a West Indies design theme.
Gary Robinson, a longtime contractor, said he and his son built in the Gulfport area until 12 years ago. At that time, the Coast market got soft and the Robinsons went to Florida where they were involved with developing and building.
“The design comes from Florida,” he said. “It evolved from several areas in the West Indies with the metal roof, dormers and soft colors.”
He said quite a few people have stopped and asked about the exterior paint color, a tropical green, and wanted to know where to get it.
In each of the two-story structures, there are 7,000 square feet downstairs and 10,000 square feet upstairs. Filling the space has been easy, Robinson said. He expected to sign a lease on the last available space Thanksgiving week. Lessees include two ladies shops, an insurance agency, a certified public accountant and a financial services business.
“The businesses are very eager to move in, and we expect that to begin within a couple of weeks,” he added.
The lot at 370 Courthouse Road was heavily wooded, but Hurricane Katrina made a mess of it, according to Robinson. “We cleaned it up and took a survey of the trees,” he said. “We’ve worked hard with the city to save the big, old oak trees and will make sure to keep them in good shape.”
They are also taking extra care with drainage and landscaping.
He said the location was chosen because Courthouse Road has always been busy and had a high traffic count. “Courthouse Road has more potential than existed before the hurricane,” he said. “It will get better as more traffic re-appears on Highway 90.”
The Robinsons think business will be good there along with other parts of the Coast, and they plan to develop other commercial sites.
Other new construction includes Courthouse Station and a free-standing Competition Sports, both located just north of the railroad tracks. Ashley Grant Furniture opened in a large existing space that was vacant before the storm.
Mayor Warr welcomes new retail ventures to the city as it rebuilds. “The biggest horse we have is the retail sector, and thank goodness most of the businesses are north of the CSX railroad tracks and were not destroyed,” he said. “Soon after the storm, I reminded business owners they would sell everything from clothes to furniture to TV sets to Q-tips because many people lost everything they had.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.