Federal building could be just start of Biloxi projects

February 2, 2014
By Mary Perez at Sun Herald

BILOXI -- The renovation and expansion of the old federal building in Biloxi is the first major development announced since last week's groundbreaking for the minor league baseball stadium.

With the expectation of crowds coming into Biloxi for 70 home games and other events -- plus an abundance of vacant land and empty buildings throughout the downtown -- city officials and developers anticipate more announcements will follow.

Don Parker, a planner and designer with Parker Design and Management in Woolmarket, said the groundbreaking for the stadium "had some impact, for sure" on the decision to do something with the building on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It is owned by Henry Le and has been vacant since the federal courthouse moved to Gulfport 10 years ago.

Financing also is becoming easier, he said.

Since an article ran in Saturday's Sun Herald about the improvements to the building, he said, "Several people contacted us about putting offices there."

Parker said the stadium will create more of a walking environment in the downtown, and the building is designed to accommodate that. The bottom two floors of the old federal building will have a combined 50,000 square feet of commercial space. A three-story addition will provide space for condominiums, apartments or hotel space -- or possibly all three as investors look at the best use of the space.

He said the location would provide a convenient alternative for those bringing their families to a convention in Biloxi.

The developers expect restaurants, retail and entertainment venues to open in the building and Parker said, "The baseball field is an added bonus."

The Biloxi Strip is a couple of miles from the stadium, but Ray Wooldridge with RW Development said the positive effects of the baseball stadium "will overflow into the community in a number of areas."

The former owner of the New Orleans Hornets basketball team, Wooldridge said, "There's always a lot of sizzle with sports."

He expects the stadium to bring more restaurants and other amenities to Biloxi. He is creating additional meeting space at South Beach for weddings, golf groups and parties and plans to expand Big Play Family Fun Park.

"We have limited meeting space now but we have a good demand for it," he said. "It's a perfect non-casino location, and right on the beach," he said.

The city also is reviewing plans for extensive renovations to Grand Casino Biloxi and a 41,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood store on East Pass Road in Biloxi.

Wal-Mart plans to start work in early spring on the grocery store and pharmacy with drive-up window, said Jerry Creel, community development director.

Today's Development Review Committee was canceled due to the weather, but projects are moving steadily through the planning stages, Creel said.

Improvements to the economy, along with baseball and announcements of other development in the city are fueling the current boom, he said.

"Our experience tells us this has all the earmarks to be a tremendous success," he said.

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