By: Nancy Marchbanks
The mayor of Gulfport is a man of great character and integrity. The city of Gulfport is in very good hands.  In the short time Mayor Schloegel has been in office, he has made terrific strides in local government. He has very big plans for his city and is looking forward to continued growth and prosperity in the years ahead. Downtown Gulfport is thriving and more alive than ever thanks to his dedication and hard work. Schloegel gets things done.
When he decided to run for mayor, he had several goals in mind but most importantly he wanted to make a contribution to the city he loves. He wanted to clean up Gulfport, leaving no remnants of Katrina behind. And he wanted to build a new port that would be the envy of port cities throughout America. As the CEO of the largest financial institution in Mississippi, he brought unparalleled experience to the office. “I want to protect, maintain and build on the quality of life for our citizens. I want solid financial integrity, eradicating the scars of hurricane Katrina, and I want to facilitate the expansion of one of the largest ports in the country. It is also most important to me that we build a new confidence in local government for our citizens,” he said.
The accomplishments of George Schloegel are many since taking over the mayor’s office. The Port of Gulfport is in the midst of a multi billion dollar restoration, beginning with a rebuild as a result of Katrina. The port lies within the heart of the central Gulf and serves the south and central America. It will be expanded and be ready to coincide with the expansion of the Panama Canal which will be complete in 2014. Gulfport already holds the distinction of being the second largest container port in the Gulf. However, upon completion of the restoration that is in progress, it is expected that Gulfport will become the largest. “This translates into jobs for our people, advancement in the quality of life for all, and economic development. This will be the largest economic project in the entire state of Mississippi,” Mayor Schloegel said. The three largest carriers to use the port of Gulfport are; Dole, Chiquita, and Crowley.
Downtown Gulfport has also been revitalized. Additional funding was made available following Katrina through Community Development Block Grants and private enterprise. The money is being used to spruce up the buildings and maintain the historical integrity and characteristics of the unique architecture from the 1960’s. “We are building back a great city that portrays our history as well as our future,” said Schloegel. In addition, a facade grant has made it possible to restore the outside appearance of the buildings with an eye catching color palette and special attention to the detail of each structure. The owners have been busy remodeling the interiors as well. Most of the buildings that have undergone the exciting transformation are now fully occupied.
A “street scape” program was also implemented. The infrastructure of the downtown streets was redone from top to bottom. New lighting and sidewalks have been installed with beautiful trees and additional landscaping. The dividends have been great for the people who operate businesses in the downtown area. The shops and restaurants are all doing very well, and the night life has blossomed. It can even be difficult to find a place to park because this has become such a popular spot. The professional community is also occupying the new office spaces, and boutiques are flourishing. A very exciting dynamic of the downtown revitalization is that some of the old buildings that have two, three or more levels are being turned into housing!  Those that work in the downtown area have the opportunity to live there as well.  Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Schloegel, downtown Gulfport is thriving again and is even more beautiful than it was before.
Directly across the street sits the extraordinary Gulfport harbor, just east of the port. There are over 300 slips available for private boats as well as some commercial crafts. Many people are curious about the many metal towers that are placed strategically throughout the newly remodeled harbor. They are state-of the-art marvels of engineering to monitor the utilities in the event of another catastrophic storm. These towers are intended to insure continued operation of the electrical, water, and sewer systems during a storm surge.
Mayor Schloegel is extremely pleased with another area of Gulfport that is doing record breaking business. The Sportsplex on Interstate 10 is booked for all of 2011. The Sportsplex is a gathering place for people of all ages, from the youngest children to seniors. There is not one available weekend for any additional tournaments which means the facilities will be 100% utilized. These fun and exciting family oriented events bring many visitors to the Coast, and locals always enjoy viewing the many kinds of ball games that take place at the huge venue. Plans for expansion is on the drawing board to develop the property further.
The former Veteran’s Administration Hospital is now Centennial Plaza. It is a 92 acre plot of land on the coastline, off Hwy 90 that is now owned by the city of Gulfport. “We are looking for a private developer to enter into a city contract as a private/public partnership to maintain and develop the 11 buildings on the property,” Schloegel said. New terra cotta roofs have been installed on the buildings to compliment and enhance the Spanish architecture. The 200th anniversary of Mississippi’s statehood will be celebrated on this site.
Mayor Schloegel describes himself as driven. He is pleased with the way things are going but he is not yet satisfied. Things move very quickly in the banking industry, and he liked it that way. Decisions are made in a split second and results can come overnight…government does not work like that, the pace is slow which frustrates him. “I want things to move a lot quicker than they do but this is a process that takes time,” he said.
One of the new sections of local government that George Schloegel has put into practice is called the Environmental Court. It has proven to be quite successful in segmenting the challenges of certain issues within the Gulfport city limits. In the last 12 months, the city has adjudicated 4,700 issues in the Environmental Court. They encompass everything from tearing down abandoned structures and the clean up and mowing of grass, to hauling away abandoned automobiles. This division follows up with property owners and makes sure that the beautification and cleanliness of the area is properly maintained. Most people are very cooperative and do whatever is necessary to correct a problem when it is brought to their attention. A very small percentage of cases actually had to go to court and involve a judge.
In March of this year another new program was implemented.  Any local citizen can make a phone call to # 311 from their cell or land line and report something they have noted that needs to be addressed. This applies to anything that interferes with the aesthetics and efficient operations within the city limits. This is a direct hotline that can immediately track the issue and set the wheels in motion to respond to the problem. “We are moving forward and although government cannot run like a business, there are certain business techniques that can be applied to government to make it more efficient…and we did all this without raising taxes,” Mayor Schloegel said in closing.

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