Gulfport Has Recovered Well Since Katrina
Hurricane Katrina caused $125 billion in damage, 300,000 homes to be destroyed, and 1,833 deaths in its wake. Now, nine years later, there is still evidence of the storm, but at the heart of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Gulfport has been able to bounce back. Billy Hewes, Mayor of Gulfport, says, "The word ‘resilient’ is used a lot. That’s reflective of our people, of our community, and you just have to look around, the vibrancy of our downtown, Jones Park, the harbor."
With recent announcements of development at Centennial Plaza, the port, and Anchor Plaza, Gulfport seems to be expanding. City officials say in 2014, Gulfport will have seen a 25% increase of homes built, compared to last year.
Downtown has seen some of the biggest growth; two businesses opened just this week. Lisa Bradley, Business and Economic Development Coordinator, says, "People talk about the open slabs and they see that as such a problem, and for a lot of us, we see it as such an opportunity. Downtown development has been about patience, and you have to have patience to have the right plans in place."
Walking through downtown Gulfport, you’ll see the most evidence of recovery after Hurricane Katrina with the building of bars, restaurants, and retail spaces, downtown is now between 70 and 80% occupancy. Bradley also says, "Within the next year or two, we really want to focus on housing. Housing is the missing piece of our puzzle."
Tax incentives and grant programs have helped Gulfport get to the point they’re at, but officials say the key to future success is persistence with key areas like Highway 90 and downtown.
David Parker, Economic Development Director for Gulfport, says, "I’ve been here for six weeks now and over half the plans that I’ve been working with developers on are for that Highway 90 corridor."