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If you were to visit downtown Gulfport today as opposed to two years ago, you may not know you were in the same city.

Three and a half years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Mississippi coast, Gulfport and other coast communities are beginning to see the fruition of their hard work rehabilitating their wounded cities.

Gulfport, the largest of the coastal cities, has scrubbed its face clean due to a Master Façade Implementation Plan conceived in part by a Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) Resource Team in 2006.

More than 60 downtown buildings are now under construction, having received Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) grants for infrastructure repairs and façade rehabilitations.

“The transformation is truly amazing to see,” said Bob Wilson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, “it is so exciting to see some of the design renderings inspired by our resource team now implemented.”

The façade program began better than a year ago, when many of downtown Gulfport’s buildings were still sitting in storm-damaged condition, deteriorating by the day.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Lisa Bradley, the Gulfport Main Street Association (GMSA), is overseeing the implementation of the MMSA façade program, including grant allocation in restoring more than 80 exteriors on downtown buildings. In addition to the MMSA Resource Team, Johnny Olsen and Eley Guild Hardy Architects worked with the GMSA to design and implement the program.

The GMSA is also overseeing a major redevelopment of the streetscape downtown, which includes new streetlights and landscaped sidewalks, along with bringing back the old, historic boulevards downtown that once were lined with massive palm trees and other plants down the medians.

“The hard work is finally paying off,” Bradley said.

According to Bradley, the program’s total is $4.425 million, the largest façade grant program in the nation’s history. The buildings under construction are expected completion by August 2009.

Since Hurricane Katrina, MMSA has provided technical services to its Main Street Member towns, including Gulfport, Biloxi, Picayune, Pascagoula, Hancock County and Ocean Springs.

The MMSA is a 20-year-old state program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Mississippi Development Authority. MMSA is a long-term, incremental approach to downtown revitalization based on the 4-Point Approach of Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Restructuring.

Wilson said he hopes more of the 56 Main Street communities will use grant monies wisely and put the money toward restoring downtown buildings.

The transformation of buildings has proven to be an effective economic development tool as the improvements attract investors and stimulate even more development.

“The difference a cost-efficient façade renovation makes to the overall look and feel of a town is truly remarkable,” Wilson said.

A building forever alters the landscape, and the downtown buildings of Gulfport tell a great story.

Bradley jokes that she never wants to hear the word ‘façade’ again, but she proudly shows every building that has received a fresh face.

“Almost daily, I receive positive comments and emails from people who have been downtown,” she said.

By Jeannie Waller

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Mississippi Main Street Association
P.O. Box 55747 | Jackson, MS 39296
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