Around the GO Zone in 60 Seconds Rebuilding Edition: The Show Will Go On

We’re way past due for an around the GO Zone post, my version of “stick and move” blogging that combines several different news stories in one post. It has been a few months since the last news tour of the area. Without further adieu here is the news that caprtured my interest.

First stop is Bay St Louis and ground breaking on the reconstruction of Beach Road. This truly has been a long time coming as JR Welsh reports for the Sun Herald:

Along this road for generations, people have fallen in love, walked their dogs, swum, fished and enjoyed beach bonfires. Most of that – except the memories – disappeared August 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina ripped away the roadway until there was little left.

Construction on a new federally funded Beach Boulevard, to cost nearly $6 million, actually began last week. But the celebration was held Tuesday, with officials from the city, county, state and private sector gleefully tossing sand into a pile with shovels.

Completion of the new road is anticipated in December 2009.

“It has been a long time coming,” Mayor Eddie Favre said. “It’s been three years, two months and 20 days ago that we lost this road. But who’s counting?”

The mood was dampened by the death Tuesday of Coast banker and Bay St. Louis native Leo W. Seal Jr. Those at the ceremony bowed their heads for a moment of meditation in Seal’s memory before proceeding.

Then, spirits lifted. Although others at the ceremony were bundled in coats and jackets, Favre showed up in his signature shorts and a red Hawaiian shirt. Following the hurricane, he’d vowed to not wear long pants until his battered city has fully recovered from Katrina.

Next up we drive across the award winning Bay Bridge to the Pass and ground breaking on the new Walmart. That location was my pre-Katrina Walmart; a place where “commoners” such as myself would shop and rub elbows with the rich and famous like Emeril Lagasse. It too is a long time coming as Ryan LaFontaine reports for the Sun Herald:

A few months ago, executives at Wal-Mart asked Mayor Chipper McDermott which day in November would be best to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the retail giant’s newest location.

“How about 1 through 30?” the mayor said.

The Pass had gone more than three years not knowing whether its Wal-Mart would return and on Tuesday the uncertainty ended, when Wal-Mart executives, city officials and the state’s first lady Marsha Barbour broke ground on a 143,000-square-foot store on the beach.

“This project really has a special place in Wal-Mart’s heart, because we really do understand how much this store impacts this city,” Wal-Mart Regional Vice President Tracy Rosser told a large crowd gathered in the old parking lot…….

Wal-Mart bought five additional acres north of the property and the new store will be built about 500 feet north of the old footprint. Brian Thomas, who manages South Mississippi Wal-Marts, said the new $11.6 million store will be unique.

“We are so proud of the new design of this store,” Thomas said. “The design is really cool; it’s a little smaller than the old store, but it’s really cool.”

During the ceremony, McDermott gave a moving and entertaining speech that lasted for about 10 minutes. Residents, politicians and business leaders stood silent at times recalling the summer of 2005, and at other times, erupting into laughter.

McDermott told a story about a triage center that was established in the northern part of town just after Katrina. The medical center was housed in tents and featured some of the nation’s top physicians and researchers from several top universities who volunteered after the storm.

“I remember going up there and how proud I felt when I saw the large sign hanging out front that said, ‘Duke University Medical City, Pass Christian Campus,’ ” McDermott said. “Well now I’ve got a new banner that we’re also very proud of.”

The mayor unrolled a sign that read “Wal-Mart, Pass Christian Campus.”

Next up is the quick trip from the Pass to Gulfport to catch up with the Commish as he is on the money hunt to begin studying the concepts behind the wind mitigation program. Our readers here may recall the legislature passed the enabling legislation in the 2007 session and the program has since languished unfunded while Mr Chaney and his merry gang of captured regulators at the Mississippi Department of Insurance were busy white washing State Farm’s behavior after the storm. If the time it took to complete that whitewashing is any indication, United Policyholder’s Director Amy Bach and Kevin Buckel may get a reply from the Commish to their inquiries concerning the Policyholder Bill of Rights sometime in 2012. Anita Lee has the story:

Home-construction measures proven to protect lives and property – and save millions for government, residents and insurance companies – can be instituted in Mississippi only if the state Legislature agrees to invest $100,000, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said Tuesday.

State Rep. Michael Janus and Rep. Brandon Jones, who chairs the House Insurance Committee, met Tuesday afternoon in Gulfport with Chaney, business leaders and risk-management specialists to talk about a catastrophe loss-mitigation program the Legislature approved in response to Hurricane Katrina.

The program is on the books without funding. As politicians look for ways to cut the state budget, Chaney fears the money will be hard to get.

Chaney said $100,000 will allow him to secure up to $1.5 million in matching funds for a study to map out the program. The study must be completed so he can secure $25 million in federal, state and private funding for the mitigation program.

A successful mitigation program, Chaney said, could result in insurance-premium reductions of up to 30 percent. The state wind pool, insurer of last resort for South Mississippians, offers discounts for mitigation measures. Nationwide insurance has also agreed to participate.

The first such program was developed in Florida in response to Hurricane Andrew. Leslie Chapman-Henderson of the Federal Alliance of Safe Homes said the program has been very successful, with more than 400,000 home inspections completed.

The inspections determine what residents should do to strengthen their homes against hurricanes. Residents receive matching grants for the work. Retrofits, she said, have cost an average of $3,200.

“If you don’t do it,” she said, “you have a cycle we call build, destroy, rebuild.”

Finally we end our tour on a brighter note as we head to N’Awlins and find out the show will go on – Al Copeland’s Christmas light show that is. Though we lost Al earlier this year his Christmas spirit will endure for years to come as Jefferson Parish has agreed to take over the display and more it to Lafreniere Park. Richard Rainey has the story for the Times Picayune:

The first Christmas without Al Copeland will not be the last for his unbounded display of holiday lights and baubles.

His family has planned a scaled-down version this year of the Popeyes magnate’s homage to electric cheer. It will be where it has been for most of the past 35 years: festooned across the grounds of Copeland’s home on Folse Drive in Metairie.

But as this year ends, the display will pass into public hands for Christmas 2009. The Copeland family and Jefferson Parish have reached a long-sought pact to transfer the display to Lafreniere Park, and the Parish Council is scheduled to vote on the deal today.

“Since he’s no longer going to be there, it’s time to move it someplace where the public can enjoy it,” said Bryan White, chief administrative officer of Al Copeland Investments.

Copeland died in March after fighting a rare form of cancer in his salivary glands.

Famous for his sense of flash, Copeland annually marked Christmas with visual bloviations of multicolored lights, music, whirligigs and towering caricatures that for years caught both fascination and some ire from Metairie residents.

While the lights will again accompany Copeland’s holiday party, this year it won’t be free for the invited guests, White said. Instead, the Al Copeland Foundation is asking $100 a head in a charitable effort to raise money for cancer research. The party is scheduled for Dec. 13.

“The theme this year is ‘Heaven on Earth,’ and obviously we know why that theme’s been chosen,” White said.

Copeland had circled heads with Jefferson Parish officials multiple times to reach a compromise that would send his display to a parish park, either LaSalle on Airline Drive or Lafreniere on Downs Boulevard. They came close to a deal in 2005, White said.

“Then came along this thing called Katrina,” he said. Debris piles from that hurricane suspended the move, so Copeland continued to set up his display on his property.

Copeland’s foundation plans to cede the props and lights to Jefferson, which will set them up shortly after Thanksgiving 2009 and take them down shortly after New Year’s Day 2010, said Angela Pacaccio, an executive assistant to the parish president in charge of special projects. The administration has $75,000 budgeted for the work, she said, with the hopes that it will become an annual celebration on par with City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks.

“I love Christmas, and I’m very excited to be involved in this particular project,” Pacaccio said.

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