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Ocean Springs aldermen vote down plan to redevelop ‘blighted’ area downtown

In a blow to Ocean Springs plans for downtown redevelopment, the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday night rejected an urban renewal map that had been drastically pared down after protests from residents.

Aldermen voted 4-3 against a map and resolution that would have declared 22 downtown acres blighted so the property could be redeveloped with government funding assistance. Ward 3 Alderman Kevin Wade said the city needs to slow down and think through its plans, and that his constituents don’t understand what’s going on.

Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Authement, who represents the downtown area, Ward 5 Alderman Robert Blackman and Alderman-At-Large Bobby Cox joined Wade in voting against the map.

What urban renewal now includes

The latest map identified only one urban renewal area for potential redevelopment at Government and Pine streets downtown — the city’s Public Works Department and Ryan Youth Center, plus several smaller parcels owned by an optical manufacturer. City leaders want to move public works, established before the area grew, to make way for private redevelopment.

In a statement he read at the beginning of the meeting and before the vote, Mayor Kenny Holloway said a developer has under contract 4 acres of the optical manufacturer’s property that sits north of public works. Plans call for a “high-end Hilton, boutique-type hotel,” he said.

If the developer doesn’t buy the property, he said, the city would consider doing so. He said the city has no plans to build a convention center downtown, despite rumors, but is considering a conference center to accompany a hotel. But the property also is under state oversight for potential contamination from past manufacturing operations, he said.

The Ryan Youth Center also sits on the city’s property with public works. He said plans call for the center to be redeveloped at or near its current location.

The city has received $2 million from the state Legislature to assist with moving public works, but could lose the money unless plans progress for an urban renewal area.

Ocean Springs residents protest blight label

The original urban renewal map, approved by the Board of Aldermen in April, included 320 acres with properties identified as blighted in four of six city wards.

The previous map and urban renewal plan sparked an outcry from residents caught by surprise over the areas described as blighted. Residents objected most vocally to inclusion in the plan of historic downtown properties owned by Black residents, who fear the city will force them out through eminent domain to bring in additional commercial development

In the face of such vocal opposition, the board rescinded the original plan in November. But residents will continue to pursue a lawsuit against the city over urban renewal in hopes of protecting the future rights of Mississippi property owners, said one of their attorneys, Elizabeth Feder-Hosey of Ocean Springs.

On Tuesday night, Feder-Hosey told the board: “The city is obviously still interested in redevelopment, and property owners do not know what plans the city will make moving forward. What’s more, Mississippi law still does not require cities to notify owners about proposed slum and blight resolutions, so the possibility of this happening again in the future is very real.”