What's Up Waveland Special - July 2020
- Story by Dena Temple
“There’s a lot of possibilities here. A lot of possibilities.”
Waveland mayor Mike Smith stands at the corner of Coleman Avenue and Beach Boulevard, looking out toward the sound, nodding. He speaks quietly, almost to himself, but his broad gestures belie his enthusiasm for the subject of today’s meeting: the Waveland Boardwalk project.
As we talk, nearly every passing car beeps, and every driver either waves, shares a jibe, or stops to ask a favor. Mike waves good-naturedly, jibes back, inquires about sick family members, and promises to look into minor issues – it’s all in a day’s work for the popular mayor. A former fireman for 25 years, Mayor Mike knows everybody, and he’s a real people-person.
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The two men visited the Destin Harbor Boardwalk and the Pensacola Beach Boardwalk in Florida, developments which are so popular they have become destinations in themselves. Each features restaurants, shops, marinas and even hotels.
Next, they looked for a way to adapt what they had seen to Waveland’s waterfront. Smith also drew inspiration from the waterfront boardwalk entertainment areas along the New Jersey shore. Their concept, recently released as an attractive rendering, has been dubbed “the Boardwalk.”
The Boardwalk concept features a raised commercial and retail complex that would be elevated 23 feet – nearly as high as the Waveland lighthouse. It also includes a town green, a new marina, and expanded waterfront/marina parking.
According to Mayor Smith, the project would be completed in phases. Phase One of the plan includes construction of the marina and a boardwalk/retail area that runs along the east side of Coleman Avenue from Arlington south to Beach Boulevard, and from Coleman Avenue east 360 feet. Phase Two, said Mayor Smith, is a sister building on the west side of Coleman.
Mayor Smith explained, “The City of Waveland would lease the space to shopkeepers and commercial tenants, with their rent based on the number of jobs each business creates and the taxes they contribute to the city’s tax base.” The rent would be established by the all-volunteer Waveland Redevelopment Commission, of which Lagasse is a commissioner. After a tenant pays rent for seven years, he said, they will own that space free and clear.
“The city doesn’t want to own property,” he continued. “We want to create opportunity for small business owners, who then can create the opportunity for jobs.
“For example,” he said, “instead of a food server driving from here to Gulfport every day to work at a restaurant, now they can work right here in Waveland. Saving an hour a day in the car saves money and improves their quality of life.”
Another idea being considered would be to allow food trucks to park beneath the boardwalk to service beachgoers and tourists, along with tables and chairs for seaside dining. “Our Food Truck Fridays are so well attended, I can see how this would be tremendously popular,” noted Lagasse.
The rendering also shows a dedicated swimming beach and marina access between the lighthouse and the Veteran’s Memorial. Beach improvements would include installing a Wifi hub at the lighthouse for beachgoers. A concrete handicapped ramp would run from the parking lot to a platform in the water, equipped with benches for taking in the view.
A Waveland marina has been considered before, but it never came to fruition, making Waveland the only city without beachside boating amenities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mayor Smith points out that this latest version would be the first step of Phase One. The marina would cover approximately 400 feet of waterfront to the west of the Veteran’s Memorial, extending out approximately 700 feet and dredged to a depth of 11 feet to accommodate larger craft. Initial concepts call for 40-60 boat slips to start, leaving room to expand to 80 slips if demand warrants.
Mayor Smith envisions a mix of commercial and pleasure boats using the marina. Floating docks would allow the configuration to change to accommodate larger craft. He is also excited about another feature of the marina – a covered area that would serve as the “Waveland Fresh Fish Market.” He explained, “Commercial fisherman could sell their catch right off the back of their boats at our dock, convenient to area residents and a draw for tourists and day-trippers.”
The cost of the marina portion of the project has been estimated at $10 million, and total cost for Phase One is estimated at $18 million. Funding for this could come from multiple sources, including the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund (BP), Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funding, the Tidelands Trust Fund, and BUILD grants. Mayor Smith emphasized that “no money for this project would come from taxpayers.”
Mayor Smith estimated that total employment in the Boardwalk development and marina could be as high as 200 people. Legasse added, “The construction itself would also generate many jobs.”
The Waveland Redevelopment Commission would review applications for retail space. There are already at least 12 people committed to establishing businesses here once Phase One is complete, according to Lagasse.
The next step, said Mayor Smith, is sourcing the funds for the project. Waveland has engaged the Gulf Regional Planning Commission of Biloxi to assist with pulling all the pieces together to get the process moving.
The project is so innovative that Mayor Smith was one of only three mayors in the state to be invited to participate in the Mississippi Mayors Forum. The program provides access to a brain trust of resource professionals who can assist in finding solutions to specific challenges impacting their community.
There is no timeline yet for the massive project, but Mayor Smith is excited at what comes next. “It excites me to be mayor of Waveland, especially right now,” he said. “We are an extremely diverse community, and we’re experiencing a 30% increase in new-home building permits, mostly for vacation homes. We must be doing something right.”
“It’s not every day you get the opportunity to build a dream.” Mayor Smith extended his arms, again looking into the distance – or maybe into the future. “What we have here is a blank slate. Let’s do this right.”