Around the GO Zone in 60 Seconds: Divvying up $200 million, Bay Grocery Plan, Habitat and Putting on the Blitz, Gulfport Library Building Slated for Discussion and NOLA GO Zone Bonds Going Unused

Time is very short for me today so I’m going to dive straight in.  First up is the plan for spending the $200 million dollars of Hurricane Katrina relief funds recently allocated to Hancock County. I have news for Wayne Brown at MDOT, they had better make use of the recovery money for Highway 603 or he is liable to find a bunch of angry residents with baseball bats looking for him. JR Welsh at the Sun Herald has the story:

What has been a closely held secret by some local governments has now become public – who may get what from nearly $200 million in federal money for long-term recovery projects countywide.

It hasn’t yet been officially approved by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, but a proposed list has been sent to Washington from the Mississippi Development Authority. The list of projects approved to split $198.4 million in grant money contains good news for some agencies and bad news for others.

For instance, more than $7 million had been requested for local school districts, but they will apparently receive nothing. Yet Bay St. Louis and Waveland stand to get a combined $21 million-plus to build a pair of marinas three miles from each other along the same beachfront.

Of the total, $105.8 million will go to Hancock County government. Bay St. Louis can expect to get $37.6 million and Waveland, $17.4 million.

The top items approved so far on the county’s list are $40 million for a new jail and $50 million to four-lane Mississippi 603 from just above Interstate 10 to Mississippi 43. However, the highway project was recently thrown into doubt when state transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown said a number of road projects – including the 603 widening – may not be done because of rising gasoline prices.

Next up is the continuing struggle to attract another grocer to the Bay-Waveland area. Mayor Longo in Waveland previously said an announcement was coming early in the year but he evidently spoke too soon.  Now Bay St Louis is willing to spend some of the allocation of the $200 million dollars discussed above to buy and renovate one of the abandoned shopping centers to attract another chain to Bay St Louis. Rouses continues to be the chain that city officials are courting. JR Welsh also filed this report:

Weary of waiting nearly three years for a full-service grocery to return, city leaders here have hatched a new plan: Build, and somebody will come.

Well, they wouldn’t exactly build. But they would buy and renovate. A plan by the Favre administration would use $5 million in federal grants to purchase a property suitable for a grocery, and then offer a low-cost lease to a grocery chain.

The city has been without a major grocery store since Winn-Dixie folded its tent and left after Hurricane Katrina. Hungry citizens have few options: Wal-Mart in Waveland, a supermarket in Diamondhead, or drive many miles elsewhere to stock their kitchens.

The documented holdup to Rouses opening up is the ever present 500 pound gorilla of insurance. The story continues:

“We are talking to Bay St. Louis officials,” said Donald Rouse, managing partner of Rouse’s Supermarkets, headquartered in Houma, La. The company operates 32 stories in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Rouse said there’s lots to weigh when deciding on a new market, especially here.

“Insurance is awfully difficult to obtain. It would be quite a bit of money and risk for us,” he said. But, he added, “We’re interested in that market and we’re still trying to put the right deal together.”

Lets take the scenic route across the Bay Bridge on Highway 90 to downtown Gulfport and today’s Harrison County Board of Supervisor’s meeting. On the agenda is a story Slabbed has been following for quite some time, the fight to save the old Gulfport library building. Melissa Scallan filed this report for the Sun Herald:

The Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Monday could decide whether to object to the Gulfport Library being considered for landmark status.

On the board’s agenda is an item to accept a letter from the state Department of Archives and History saying the permit committee will consider naming the library a Mississippi Landmark.

The committee made the decision at its June 12 meeting, and the public has until July 19 to submit letters or e-mails concerning the library.

The board also will hear from representatives of We the People, a group that has been diligent in its efforts to save the library from demolition.

If the supervisors object to the library being designated a landmark, the decision will be made by the Board of Trustees for Archives and History, likely at its October meeting. If the board doesn’t object, the permit committee will vote on the issue at its August meeting.

Supervisors said earlier this month they likely will object, not because they want to tear down the building, but because they don’t want to put public money into a building that can’t be used for a library anymore. Also, they have said insurance would be too high for a building so close to the water.

Even if the library is named a landmark, supervisors aren’t obligated to repair the building.

“The board doesn’t have a burning desire to tear down that building,” Supervisor Kim Savant said when Archives and History made its decision. Savant represents District 2, which includes the library. “But what we have said is that we will not put taxpayer dollars into the building.”

We wish We the People luck in finding money to restore the building.

Its back to Bay St Louis to find out what Habitat for Humanity has been up to there. Habitat has proven, along with other non profits like KaBOOM to be among the best friends the slabbed have made since the storm. Sarah Cure writing for the Seacoast Echo filed this report:

A house, depending on the square footage, usually takes about one year to build, but Bay-Waveland’s Habitat for Humanity division will build an astonishing seven homes in five days while working around the clock.

Roughly 200 volunteers from Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, Texas and even Northern Ireland are “blitz-building” this week on Dicks St. in Waveland for five days straight and almost 24 hours a day. Seven Hancock County families will have the opportunity to move in their new homes within two to three weeks.

“By the end of July, our affiliate will have built a total of 77 homes in Hancock County since Hurricane Katrina,” Director of Communications for Habitat Bay-Waveland Dave Walker said. “We play a big role in the solution.”

It has only been one month since a “blitz-build” was conducted in Bay St. Louis during the 2008 Carter Work Project in which 10 houses were constructed in five days.

“……now we are doing an extra seven,” Walker said. “This speaks about the determination and tenacity of this affiliate and how we are passionate and driven to get this community back on its feet.”

Finally we take “Old 90” over to New Orleans and find that GO Zone bonds allocated to rebuilding the City are going unused, the victim of uncertain credit markets and governmental red tape. Kate Moran at the Times Picayune has the story:

For the most part, Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds have proven a powerful means of seeding private sector investment in the parishes ransacked by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. They have had limited impact in only one place: New Orleans.

More than 40 developers with housing, hotel or retail projects in New Orleans have applied for a bond allocation in the past two years. Seven of those have managed to place the bonds in the private market and close their deals. That means a vast amount of borrowing capacity remains unused in the city that arguably needs it the most.

Some of the developers who let their bond allocation lapse simply decided to tap another public incentive, such as historic tax credits. Others grew fed up with some of the rules the state imposed on companies that wanted the bonds. In still other cases, developers had to forfeit their allocation because their projects did not pass muster with Wall Street investors waiting out the turbulence in the credit markets.

“There is just so much turmoil in the credit markets, that even if you have what may be a good project, a lot of investors in these types of securities are sitting on the sidelines,” said Scott Willis, a local real estate and commercial finance lawyer.

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