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June 16--The development that people have been waiting for in downtown Biloxi is under way, bringing three new hotels with 320 rooms and a restaurant within a few blocks of each other, as developers invest millions in homes and businesses across South Mississippi.

Just east of Main Street in Biloxi, crews on scaffolding apply the exterior finish to the former Santa Maria del Mar apartments. The tower will be turned into a 154-unit, all-suites Watermark Hotel across the street from the Small Craft Harbor and within walking distance of casinos, restaurants and MGM Park.

A block north, the foundation is going in for Mugshots Grill & Bar, which will move from West Biloxi to downtown. A block to the east, the site is ready for construction of a $12 million, 100-room Hilton Garden Inn, and just to the west of I-110 and MGM Park, site work has begun on the La Quinta Inn and Suites, said Jerry Creel, director of Community Development for Biloxi.

Development is coming slower to what many years ago was the thriving business district. But the city has a Downtown Restoration Plan for restoring two-way traffic and rejuvenating that area and a special meeting on the restoration of Howard Avenue will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m.

The Blind Tiger restaurant opened in February, across from Harrah's Gulf Coast on the beach in Biloxi, with plans to make the most of its waterfront location. This week, crews are applying decking to the adjacent city pier that has been unusable since it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

The Blind Tiger owners are paying the $30,000 cost of labor and materials to restore the 207-foot pier, and owner/chef Thomas Genin said it will allow people to pull up to the restaurant in their boats, jet skis and kayaks.

"Just last week, we had six boats tied up to the bones of the old pier," Genin said, "and they walked through the water and sand because they wanted to come here by water."

Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich said, "This public-private partnership means amenities that will grow our tourism industry. This is exactly what we envision with the waterfront improvements we want to make all along the Biloxi peninsula."

In his development reports, Creel said Bacchus restaurant is open after moving to restaurant row, where the city is about to start work on a boardwalk along the water. Plans are being reviewed for a new Salt Grass Restaurant on the north side of Beach Boulevard, across from the Golden Nugget Casino Resort, and earlier this week the Sun Herald reported White Pillars restaurant will reopen later this year in Biloxi and Bernie's in Biloxi restaurant has new owners.

Tuesday Morning home store is now open in Edgewater Village Shopping Center, Creel said, and up the street at Edgewater Square, crews are giving the shopping center a new look before new restaurants open.

Residential development also is booming in Biloxi and across South Mississippi. After years of work, construction is about to begin at Hidden Springs Development in Woolmarket, and the Treen Report shows that in the past two weeks, building permits were issued for 38 new homes in Harrison and Hancock counties and 29 in Jackson County.

Mary Perez: 228-896-2354, @MaryPerezSH

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