March 10, 2006


Mississippi's Reversal of Fortune (Spencer S. Hsu, 3/10/06, Washington Post)

Six months after Hurricane Katrina smashed through a fragile necklace of Mississippi coastal towns, the region is enjoying a post-storm boom. Fueled by insurance money, federal reconstruction aid and speculative capital, surviving hotels and restaurants are filled to overflowing, beachfront land prices are soaring, and developers are placing billion-dollar bets that shattered antebellum mansions will give rise to condominium resorts.

The shared sense here is that Mississippi's recovery, while still in its early stages and reliant on continuing outside help, is moving much faster than Louisiana's. Blessed with less damage, more federal aid and greater political clout -- and know-how from past storms -- Mississippi's lightly populated coastline is emerging from chaos, while large parts of the metropolis next door remain a silent, rotting wasteland. [...]

Brent Warr, mayor of neighboring Gulfport (population 72,000), said the nation's discovery of the area's 26 miles of white-sand beaches has boosted land prices along the devastated shoreline by 50 percent -- between $1 million and $2 million an acre. Investors are also seizing on federal post-storm tax legislation, which lets companies immediately write off half the cost of new investments.

Sales tax revenue has surged 30 percent ahead of last year's total in Gulfport, the largest city on the Mississippi coast. Contractors in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caps pack bars each night, and displaced families flock to home-improvement stores and auto dealerships on six-lane U.S. 49, the highway that leads north to Jackson. Doctors such as Philip Hage, 75, are coming out of semi-retirement to treat waiting rooms of patients flush with "FEMA cash."

"I'm jampacked now, as a matter of fact," said Hage, who hired a fifth assistant after the storm and plans to start rebuilding his 7,000-square-foot house, the largest on Gulfport's east beach before it was swept away by the waters.

Warr, a developer sworn in seven weeks before Katrina hit, has hired New Urbanist architects from Oakland, Calif., to redesign the local banking and retail center into a pedestrian-friendly Dixie Riviera, combining the residential charm of Charleston, S.C., with the resort life of Palm Beach, Fla.

"We want it to be a city that is uniquely Southern and a city that our residents -- who lived here and built it -- still recognize, like and want to live in after it's been redeveloped," said Warr, 42, who envisions new shopping, dining, museums and an aquarium. "The quality level will step up, but we want to make sure that culturally it addresses what is charming about the South."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 10, 2006 8:56 AM

It would be nice if all the MSM/Hollywood types/etc blasting Bush over the Katrina recovery took 5 minutes to notice the difference in recovery between Miss and NO and recognized that local officials are the difference.

Posted by: AWW at March 10, 2006 9:06 AM

The best part of this is, Gulfport is rebuilding without the casinos, by and large. Let Biloxi suffer the after-effects of gambling poaching off recovery dollars.

Casinos are really NOT what the Miss. Gulf Coast needs right now.

Posted by: Brad S at March 10, 2006 11:24 AM

New Orleans for dozens of decades has accepted and even embraced corruption and mismanagement. It shows.

I went to school in New Orleans and I loved the food, music and people of New Orleans but it is like a happy go-lucky extremely irresponsible frat-brother who is fun to hang out with, but when you want to get things done like pay the mortgage and get the kids safely to school, he isn't the person to count on.

Posted by: pchuck at March 10, 2006 11:26 AM