Gulf Coast Project Gains Ground

Gulf Coast Project Gains Ground PASCAGOULA, MS - The City Council showed support Tuesday night for the developer wanting to replace the condemned Belair Shopping Center with a $28 million mixed-use complex. The council granted Encore Enterprises' request for a special use permit to construct the 260-unit apartment complex in the C-2 commercial zone.

Encore Enterprises, a Dallas-based commercial real estate firm with an office in Gulfport, wants to bring the workforce housing and specialty retail complex to the heart of Pascagoula, on blighted land at the intersection of Hospital Road and Old Mobile Highway.

Stephen Mentesana, president of Encore's multifamily business, told councilmen his company has secured a $12 million Mississippi Development Authority grant to help build the two- and three-story project. MDA typically awards this type of grant for developments meeting criteria for workforce housing, which places a cap on rent.

Mentesana said the affordable housing complex will have one-, two- and three-bedroom units for $525 to $1,100 in rent. It will also house 10,000 square feet of small, specialty retail stores.

Encore has previously had success on the coast with projects such as Lakeview Village in D'Iberville and Oceanaire apartments in St. Martin.

Several Pinecrest subdivision residents expressed support for the project, saying the sooner the eyesore is cleaned up the better. "I do not believe we'll have a better proposal come along," Mayor Matthew Avara said, noting he's seen multiple proposals for the property fall through over the years.

Ward 4 Councilman Frank Corder, whose district includes the Belair property, said the project adds options for middle-income residents.

"This is where those who make between $25,000 and $45,000 can rent, and that means teachers, police and firemen, office workers, young professionals and shipyard workers," he said. "We've got a large component of low-income Section 8 and upper-level housing, but we're missing that affordable component."

He's confident the project will come to fruition, as Encore has a track record of being "very diligent and making projects sustain within communities," Corder said.

While some residents have pushed for more retail and commercial development on that site, Corder said real estate studies and falling income tax revenues have deterred developers from pursuing purely commercial projects.

Tuesday's meeting was the last for the current council.

Avara tearfully thanked city staff for their support and advised the incoming council to "never forget why you're here." Avara, who served two terms as a councilman and one as mayor, will be replaced by Robbie Maxwell, who ran unopposed.

Keith Belcher, of Ward 5, will be replaced by Jim Milstead, a previous two-term councilman. Harold Tillman will replace Bill Jones for the councilman at large post. The new council will be sworn in July 6 and hold its first meeting July 7.

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