By LYNN LOFTON
Anyone driving along Highway 90 and the streets south of the railroad track in Gulfport is seeing a welcome sight: new houses are being built and occupied, lots that have been vacant for 10 years are selling, and existing home sales are increasing — a good sign for morale and the economy.
Builders and city officials say there are a number of contributing factors to this rebirth, but significant among them is Gulfport’s tax abatement program. This city ordinance, adopted in 2015, established the Highway 90 Tax Abatement District South of the CSX Railroad track from city line to city line, the Downtown Tax Abatement District and the Centennial Plaza District.
New residential construction, renovation or improvement fronting Highway 90 with a minimum cost of $400,000 (excluding price of land) is released from paying city ad valorem taxes for seven years. Construction, renovation or improvement on lots in this district but not fronting Highway 90 must cost a minimum of $100,000 to benefit from the tax abatement program. There are also provisions for multi-family and commercial development.
“The ordinance was passed to spur new construction along Highway 90. It was a lot of hard work with the city council and staff to implement it,” said David L. Parker, economic development director for Gulfport. “We’re the only city in the state doing it at this time.”
Parker points out that school taxes must still be paid. Anyone considering a project should contact him to sign up for the program and to learn all the provisions.
Home builder Kevin Taylor, president of Plum Homes, believes the tax abatement program is making an impact. “Some people are putting more money into their homes because of it,” he said. “Other factors are low interest rates, the more competitive insurance rates and the 10 years we’ve had without a major storm.”
A former president of the Gulf Coast Home Builders Association, Taylor added, “I only deal with high-end homes. Because of building methods used, it’s not economically feasible to build small homes on the beach. I’ve recently completed some and will start two more fronting the beach in 30 days.”
Brandon Elliott is president of Elliott Homes and is optimistic about residential building in Gulfport. “The tax abatement program is a great benefit that helps people make the decision to build, but it’s not the major factor,” he said. “With lower insurance quotes coming back, people are getting confidence back and seeing a home as a great investment.”
He sees the Gulfport abatement district as the most beautiful strip on the Coast. “With the views, Jones Park, the aquarium, marina, port and downtown corridor, there’s a lot of space and potential in Gulfport,” he said. “As a builder, I look at that and see a future there. It’s a family oriented atmosphere and not completely casinos. It’s exciting and I like to see things grow.”
Elliott also feels that the return of experienced building subcontractors is helping. “We don’t have to baby sit them and they’re improving the quality of building.”
He and his family will move into their beachfront home this month and then he will begin work on a speculative home on the adjoining lot. Both designs are in what he calls the Mississippi heritage style and are 3,200 and 3,800 square feet. “We’re trying to keep the look of that heritage style,” he said. “There are new products and technology that help us create that old look.”
Amy P. Wood, owner/broker of Amy Wood Realty, says Gulfport has a great idea on tax incentives for new construction and other cities adopting a program would be ideal. “However, we are seeing more building along the waterfront in all cities on the Coast now that the new flood maps are set so buyers know elevation requirements and insurance is more affordable,” she said.
Observing that houses and lots close to the beach are selling, she commented, “The water is what draws people to the Coast and now builders are building stronger,” she said. “Also, Coast restaurants and downtown areas are building back. People want to live near the action and entertainment.”
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