Saturday, October 15 -- Fueled largely by some combination of enthusiasm and caffeine, the near constant production session of Renewal Forum designers comes to a momentary stop today, as work-to-date is presented to local elected officials from each of the eleven affected communities.
Since returning from Thursday's field trips, the Isle of Capri studio has buzzed with all facets of charrette activity - land and transportation planning, architecture, coding, and environmental concerns.
Broken out into eleven distinct teams, one for each of the selected communities, the unique physical and political realities of each have been studied and addressed through a variety of ideas and proposals.
Join the process with our community-by-community overview.
Brent Warr was less than two months into his first term as Mayor of Gulfport when Katrina struck, wiping out shoreline neighborhoods and dealing a brutal setback to his hopes of bringing a renaissance to the Mississippi Coast's largest city with its large-scale port, faded downtown financial district, and timeworn antebellum mansions.
Although the hurricane also leveled the men's clothing store that Warr's family has owned for generations and that he managed for well over a decade, Warr is anything but down. Since the start of the charrette's real working sessions Thursday evening, he has shown an irrepressible spirit and established himself as a full-time-and-then-some member of the Gulfport charrette team. "He took the team out for dinner last night, drove us back to the hotel around 10. Then he was here early this morning," reports James Moore, team leader and Tampa-based architect from HDR/LCA Sargent Town Planning. "He doesn't quit."
With a design savvy, tenaciousness about details, and an unyielding belief in Gulfport's potential, Warr has thoroughly impressed the planners, designers, and engineers on his team, just as he has worked to squeeze maximum value from every moment with them. Earlier in the day, he sat side-by-side with architect Joanna Alimanestianu of Brussels, Belgium, trying to solve a knotty problem - how to keep trains flowing to and from the city's active port without tying up downtown street traffic. The proposed solution: lifting the truck and rail lines above the streets on a European-styled walled viaduct whose underside would be developed with stores and offices to complete the streetscape. Later he told retail consultant Bob Gibbs about his hopes of consolidating port operations on one finger of land and developing another with a classic grand hotel and casino with a seaside promenade worthy of Monte Carlo and an intimate relationship to the downtown. Told of Gulfport's ability to dock cruise ships next to this urbane attraction, Gibbs said, "That's huge."
At press time, Mayor Warr was approximately where he had been all day - hunched over a map with pencil in hand, joining a designer in working out the question about whether the zoning in a beachside neighborhood will currently accommodate a condominium. "I'll never have this opportunity again - hopefully," said an only slightly weary Warr as midnight approached. "I'm proud to have it. I know it's too big an opportunity to waste."
After Thursday's inspiring visit with citizens of Waveland, whose optimism and resiliency was nearly overwhelming, the planning team set to work with enthusiasm Friday morning. "These are people we have to look out for," team leader Robert Orr said. Throughout the day the team worked through about a half-dozen scenarios. The group sought to revive the homegrown shopping district along Coleman Street, with the city hall, library and community center, and a proposed pocket park as focal points.
Long discussions focused on how to integrate the larger group's proposal to use the right-of-way from a relocated freight line for a streetcar or light rail service. Team members also drew up ideas to beef up retail on Highway 90, while at the same time preserving the strong percentage of local ownership that exists now, even with the presence of a Wal-Mart, Lowe's and other "big box" stores. Late in the day the team was thrown a bit of a curveball when proposed new flood maps from FEMA seemed at first to alter the picture substantially. As the day ended, those issues remained to be resolved.
"We're devising a variety of options for Waveland," said planner Patrick Pinnell. "We want to reinforce the existing street pattern, and expand the access to neighborhood parks, which the city already had begun to think about. We envision that over time a section of Highway 90 west of Nicholson would begin to acquire more of the character of Waveland, rather than a generic strip." Some ideas being considered include creating a boulevard effect with trees that create a screen, and zoning to keep large retailers near the intersections while building smaller buildings in between that would be more conducive to smaller, local shops.
"We want to give the town what it had in its traditional character - only more so," Pinnell said. On Saturday the team will work to resolve the issues of flood zones and elevations, and begin refining a set of three master concepts.
Compared to most of its neighbors, Gautier is relatively young, having incorporated only 20 years ago. A bedroom community to Pascagoula, Gautier has developed in primarily a conventional suburban pattern, with no discernible center and aggressive suburban development in the form of a 4,300-unit PUD, which is presently under construction. Because of this rapid growth-Gautier was the fastest growing city in the Gulf Coast region prior to Katrina-the city faces management issues that have little to do with Katrina, as well as recovery and rebuilding problems stemming directly from the hurricane's damage.
Gautier is unique among the surrounding communities, too, in that it is not a beach town, per se; instead, it boasts miles of bayou frontage and varying levels of park land. These green spaces include a fish and wildlife preserve that is habitat for sandhill cranes, a 10,000-acre parcel that borders downtown on three sides, and a state park embedded into the heart of the town. Not surprisingly, the residents and leadership of Gautier see ecotourism as a viable path toward future economic stability.
In the wake of a recent annexation to the west that more than doubled the geographic size of the community, Gautier's primary opportunity lies in leveraging the economic and scenic value of its land without biting the hand of potential ecotourism. Development options include the creation of a downtown core, shoreline development that is consistent with the community's ecotourism goals, preservation of park lands, and connections between the downtown, a potential light rail stop, and Hwy 90.
Newly elected Mayor Xavier Bishop now has a standard reply to those who ask what it felt like to have a hurricane sweep through his town when he was in office all of two months. "I told people I was going to bring about change," he said.
Bishop was deep into the planning mode on Friday, working on a table of local and national design specialists at the Mississippi Renewal Forum. Even though Katrina damage in Moss Point was less than in surrounding communities, the mayor said he saw the Forum as an opportunity "to establish a vision where there wasn't one."
Steven Schukraft, based in Washington, D.C. with HOK's Planning Group, is helping with the Moss Point redesign, which includes a reworking of the downtown. "The big thing that happened to the downtown," says Schukraft, "is that a new highway bridge created a big gap in the traditional downtown network of streets. This provides us with the ability to recreate that early grid."
Among the proposals: Moving city hall, flooded by Katrina, to a site that allows for a more traditional town square; new police and fire department buildings that help establish a civic building influence on the streetscapes; two and three-story downtown live-work space to stimulate downtown activity. The team is suggesting both a trolley and natural walking path connecting Moss Point to Pascagoula's town center three miles away.
Mayor Bishop, who worked alongside designers for much of Saturday, said he's encouraging them "to raise the bar and be creative."
In Pascagoula, where homes were destroyed along the beach and many more damaged, the planning team headed by John Ellis of WRT/Solomon E.T.C. is looking well beyond the problem of rebuilding destroyed houses. The team is exploring how a potential light rail line could bring vitality to downtown and how more shops could be lured into the city, which is currently underserved by retail. The historic rail station next to the CSX tracks, adjacent to downtown, is a possible light rail station. The team is also designing an enhanced, mixed-use, trolley-served boulevard from the downtown to the beach.
Along the western waterfront of the city, which is currently dominated by industrial uses, the introduction of low- to mid-rise residential buildings may be proposed. Also needed in Pascagoula is more green space - one idea is to move an existing golf course to a new location and create a linear public park.
While the coastline along Ocean Springs was devastated, the inland areas are recovering well after Katrina. Because of this, the community should be one of the first to bounce back from the storm.
With an influx of new residents about to come knocking, Ocean Springs needs to look for development opportunities in key areas: Highway 90 as it enters the town; and the harbor, which holds options for mixed-use development. Since waterfront development will play a major role in Ocean Springs' renewal, options for appropriate building design are crucial.
One approach would be to construct mixed-use buildings that are fortified against storm surges, with an elevated promenade facing the boat slips. In this design, parking and limited retail could be located on the ground floor. A second option could allow for more retail on a waterproofed ground floor, an approach that has met with success in Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Ocean Springs has an existing, walkable, historic downtown on its west side; the eastern edge of the town might also be enhanced, transformed into an equally walkable place. But no matter what level of redevelopment occurs, city officials and residents agree that any new development must be carefully targeted, to avoid changing the character of the town too drastically.
"What we're doing," said Biloxi architect David Hardy, "is trying to repair damage done long before the hurricane by urban renewal" and other failed planning strategies. One of the bad decisions was a loop road around Biloxi's historic downtown that defeated the traditional street grid.
Hardy and others on the team - which includes Los Angles architect-planners Stefanos Polyzoides and Elizabeth Moule - are reestablishing the grid and proposing an infill strategy of four and five-story buildings with retail and office on ground floors and residences above. The new design potentially adds some 500 new residential units.
The plan is straight-forward and easy-to-sell, says Hardy. "Totally doable. We'd rather offer something like this than something farther out that will just sit on the shelf."
Bay St. Louis
The City of Bay St. Louis faces design challenges in its connective tissue and its attempts to restore its historic buildings.
Preliminary design work includes one approach to linking the town's three traditional commercial areas into a greater whole. Several "gateway" opportunities exist also, including an entry from Highway 90 to the beach, and between Waveland the Bay St. Louis. Connection options include additional routes to I-10, plus connecting an existing historic train depot to the traditional main street. Improvements to Beach Boulevard are possible, including expanded parking, stronger pedestrian links, and eased congestion.
On the architectural front, design team members are analyzing how to rebuild the community's historic buildings-even those that were completely obliterated by Katrina. Restoring the city's housing options is another consideration; the team is exploring courtyard buildings and other, similar types, looking for more sturdy options that can be sited in a "mother and children" configuration, where buildings are layered with the beachside ones being hardened to serve as protective buffers for the smaller, less-expensive dwellings behind them.
Aesthetics and practicality are merging in the developing plans for the City of Long Beach. Responding to traffic flow problems on Main Street, design team members envision the creation of a civic square half a mile from the beach at the north end of Main Street, which would anchor that street and help to free up traffic flow. A pair of pedestrian-oriented streets could connect the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast campus to Main Street.
A scenic parkway could wind through a wetlands area north of downtown Long Beach, creating a more direct route to I-10 while offering a tourist destination.
Based on what citizens and local officials have said, Pass Christian residents by and large would like to keep the feel of a laid-back fishing village while at the same time rebuilding a tax base that will be hit hard by the likely departure of a Wal-Mart, which was destroyed in the storm. "We're thinking they might be able to do that by becoming a magnet for regional tourism that's not casino-driven," said planner Howard Blackson.
One idea is to create a second marina. The first would remain a working marina for the oyster fleet, while the second would be a center for recreational boating and fishing. With golf, a restored beach boardwalk and other activities rounding out the local offerings, visitors could be drawn to a hotel and a modest number of condos that would help to restore the tax base. "Condos don't have to be high-rise and these shouldn't be," Blackson said. Rather, they could be built on the model of the lost antebellum homes, with four or so units to a building. Visitors could enjoy beach walks and water sports by day, then take the proposed street car or light rail to
Biloxi's casinos by night.
"The key likely will be to maintain the traditional feel and the strong Southern character," Blackson said.
Several other ideas also are in play, and will become part of a set of options to be revised as work continues through the weekend.
The main focus of the D'Iberville team on Friday was the area along the bay, the neighborhoods that sustained the most severe damage. In eleven neighborhood centers, each with a different motif and purpose, the team proposed denser development centered around schools or retail and service-based areas.
Closest to the coast, the team envisioned a neighborhood reminiscent of New Orleans, with arcade-lined streets, cafes, restaurants, and retail, and two additional stories on each building for housing. The team explained that buildings will be "built like a ship," dry-proof up to a certain height. Along the bay itself is a layer of wetlands and mangroves, which act as flood control while providing an open, natural area adjacent to hotels and casinos.
The approach got raves from Mayor Rusty Quave when he visited the planners' table.
Planners, like any
business people, must remain forever mindful of the needs and desires of their "customers."
Meet some now
Getting ready for presentation