Katrina & Beyond

Biloxi Businessmen Eye Redevelopment

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Two longtime residents of Biloxi, Miss., discuss redevelopment hopes for their hurricane-ravaged city. Bookstore owner Mike Hutter has ties to the historical preservation community, and banker Dennis Burke is involved with development efforts.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Before Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a four-lane drawbridge connected the casino town of Biloxi with the quaint tree-lined town of Ocean Springs. Local officials recently approved a plan to reconstruct and expand that bridge to 10 lanes. Biloxi and Ocean Springs are also trying to bridge another kind of gap, the one between rebuilding the economy and preserving the local culture.

Two longtime Biloxi residents who are trying to figure out the future of their city spoke to us yesterday. Dennis Burke is the vice president of the People's Bank and a past president of Biloxi Main Street, a community development group. Mike Hutter is the co-owner of Spanish Trail Books and vice chairman of the city's Architectural and Historical Review Commission.

Hutter explains some of the city's rebuilding challenges.

Mr. MIKE HUTTER (Co-Owner, Spanish Trail Books; Vice Chairman, Architectural Review Commission, Biloxi): Everybody's concerned with, you know, economic development and redevelopment, coming back and making a living and being able to make a living. On the preservation side, we see a lot of the natural destruction caused by Katrina and the additional pressures by the casinos and condo developers who see opportunities. We really would like to have both and they're trying to figure out a way to do that.

HANSEN: Dennis, present your side of the story. You're a member of Biloxi's Finance Committee. You're in contact with these developers and these casino owners.

Mr. DENNIS BURKE (Vice President, People's Bank): I am a member of the Finance Committee. Right after the storm, in about the early part of October, one of the things our governor did was call a charrette of architects and planners and urbanists to help each community come up with some ideas for design. And each community has taken that and looked at different ways that they can incorporate it.

I think Mike is right in that we are trying to do, in Biloxi, we are trying to make it all work. I mean, I think we would all agree that our foremost problem is affordable housing. The housing issue is so serious on the coast and how do we incorporate housing, development along with retail development and other resources in the downtown area.

Mr. HUTTER: I'd like to comment on the charrette process. I mean, it was, I felt it was kind of exclusionary. A very few what the mayor calls stakeholders in the community, certain leaders were invited; this pretty democratic way of doing things normally. You get everybody in the world in a room, or in a convention hall and get all of their ideas and start weeding them out. So it's kind of a bottom up process. But this was from the top down.

Another failing I think it had is that it failed to address the main issue that I think that we have, is that how can we design a town where casinos and condos can be made to co-exist with historic traditional neighborhoods.

HANSEN: Dennis, is there a middle ground here? Do you see one?

Mr. BURKE: I grew up on the east end of Biloxi, which was traditionally the seafood factories and all the people that work there. And I know the difficulties when all those factories were suffering with business. So then when the development of the casinos began, we were able to have that gaming industry on the outskirts or around the city and still have the neighborhoods in the middle area of the peninsula.

What I think is happening is something that would have happened, maybe not in my lifetime or Mike's lifetime, but over the next 40 or 50 years you would have seen that development grow more commercially and the neighborhood as I knew it, as a child, would no longer exist.

HANSEN: Mike, we'll give you the last word.

Mr. HUTTER: The casinos and the new development of the 20, 21st century are really the shrimp factories of the 19th century. At that time, the people lived, worked, shopped and played in the inner city. They can do the same thing for the casinos. I think if we rebuild or preserve that area, it also provides opportunities for heritage tourism and things that would be in the backyard, as it were, of the casinos. They could all work together in a symbiotic or synergistic level. I remain an optimist.

HANSEN: Mike Hutter owns Spanish Trail Books in Biloxi, Mississippi. Dennis Burke is a vice president of the People's Bank in Biloxi, Mississippi. Thanks to both of you and the best of luck to you.

Mr. HUTTER: All right.

Mr. BURKE: Thank you, Liane.

Mr. HUTTER: You're welcome.

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