Biloxi OKs $54-Million Downtown Development, Sales Tax Collections Exceed Pre-Katrina Levels

From:  City of Biloxi   1/23/19   GCN

For months, the city has touted a developer's rendering of a fully restored Barq Building in downtown Biloxi, with upstairs living and downstairs retail, but, the fact is, the resurrection of that long-dormant building, once a centerpiece downtown, is only part of the downtown plan.

The Biloxi City Council has approved an agreement that will see $54 million in development in downtown Biloxi, with construction to begin in October 2019 -- "soon," says the developer -- and the first of five mixed-use properties open by July 1, 2021.

Developer Lee Young on Tuesday outlined a vision that will involve five Howard Avenue sites he has purchased � the Barq, Woolworth, Kress and Gryder buildings, along with the former location of the Upstairs-Downstairs nightclub and Spanish Trail books.

In all, Young plans to offer 230,000-square feet of boutique shops, local breweries, restaurants, and music venues; 330 residential units consisting of one-, two- and three-bedroom units; and 20,000-square feet of office space.

For his investment, Young sought and received sales and property tax abatements that could trim millions from his investment.

"What we're seeing here is a developer who has skin in the game and is looking to make a major investment in revitalizing our downtown," Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich said. "We will continue to collect the property and sales taxes we're receiving now, but he'll get a break on any new development he creates. It's all performance-based, with a timeline for construction and opening.

"Is there a risk?" Gilich declared. "The risk is if we do nothing."

See an overview of The District
Video: See the council meeting presentation

AA-rated city sees nine million-dollar months

A state report issued today shows Biloxi had nine million-dollar sales tax months in 2018, the first time since the heady days pre-Katrina.

Biloxi's share of sales taxes posted in 2018 amounted to $12.7 million, slightly above the $12.4 million in 2017, but nonetheless a milestone considering million-dollar months were posted in January, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November.

The last time the city saw nine million-dollar months was in 2004, when total sales taxes for the year were $12.34 million.

"All of our economic indicators are moving in the right direction," says Community Development Director Jerry Creel. "2018 was the highest year for sales tax revenues that we have experienced in my 16 years at Community Development."

Sales taxes, along with gaming and property taxes, are the three main revenue streams in the city's $55 million annual operating budget.
The tax collections news arrives in at the same time that analysts at Standard & Poor's have affirmed the city's AA-/Stable credit rating. The financial report card was published as part of the city's pending $14 million bond issue for a host of improvement projects citywide.

Said the S&P Global Ratings report, issued Jan. 9:

"Over the past several years, the city has seen significant swings in revenue and expenditures stemming from a roughly $340 million capital campaign under which Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds are being used to repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Despite the protracted capital campaign, the city has been able to maintain stable operations and strong reserves."

See history of monthly sales tax collections
See the full S&P rating report

News & notes: Weekly report, City Council, swimming lessons

The week that was: Last week, the Fire Department answered 141 calls for service, including 101 medical emergencies; the Police Department handled 2,430 calls for service; the Community Development Department issued 69 building permits with a construction valuation of nearly $880,000; and the Engineering Department continued progress on projects throughout the city. To see the reports covering last week, click here.

City Council: The Biloxi City Council held its second meeting of the month and of 2019 Tuesday afternoon. The nearly three-hour meeting focused on a huge downtown development, "The District," and the brouhaha over short-term rentals. To see images from the meeting, click here.

To see a video of the meeting, click here for Part 1, which ends while council goes into executive session, and click here for Part 2, which consists of the discussion of Consent Agenda items.

Swimming lessons: The Biloxi Parks & Recreation Department is now taking registration for its Winter Swimming Lessons. Registration must be done in person weekdays at the Biloxi Natatorium, 1384 Father Ryan Ave., from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lessons begin Feb. 4. To see more about the lessons, including the schedule and fees, click here.


Released by Vincent Creel and Cecilia Dobbs Walton