Vincent Creel has a love affair with Biloxi that began when he was boy. He grew up on the Back Bay and on Point Cadet. As a result there is little he doesn’t know about the crown jewel of the Coast. He has always lived here, attending Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston (Perk) and USM in Hattiesburg. During college he began working at the Sun Herald newspaper part time on weekends, writing obituaries. Creel was always interested in writing and this position taught him the importance of accuracy in spelling and reporting information correctly. When a position became available at the Sun Herald full time, he left USM and became the Editor of the Entertainment section, Marquee. Eventually, Creel was named the Features Editor as well, which focused on very specific sections of the newspaper. The job entailed organizing all the information as well as overseeing the staff, and it was quite an endeavor. “I was with the Sun Herald for thirteen years and I learned a lot of things, got to know a lot of people and made a lot of friends. I was quite taken with the colorful history of Biloxi, particularly in the realm of entertainment…so many famous people have been here at the height of their popularity,” he said.
The Biloxi Belle casino provided the next business opportunity for Creel. He served as the Public Affairs Manager for the small, elegant gambling vessel docked in Biloxi. The job didn’t last beyond a year but Creel thoroughly enjoyed it and remains a close friend with the gentleman who hired him. Having left the Sun Herald on very good terms, Creel thought about perhaps returning to the newspaper but made the decision to see about another opportunity.It was a job for Public Affairs Manager that was opening at the Biloxi City Hall. “I knew of Mayor Holloway but I didn’t actually know him and he also knew of me. The job was posted as full time or part time and that was rather strange but I was definately intrigued,” Creel said. After submitting his resume’, and interviewing for the position with Mayor Holloway, Vincent Creel was selected out of more than a hundred applicants. It was decided that the Public Affairs Manager would be a full time position thanks to Creel’s very persuasive argument that he could do the job no other way.
The Public Affairs Manager keeps the public informed as to what the city is doing in an effort to improve their lives. “I am essentially a reporter for the city of Biloxi. My job is to tell the citizens, the media, and visitors why they would want to be here and what opportunities there are in the way of education, recreation, employment, and everything in between. My job is to tell them why they would want to come to Biloxi for a weekend, or why they would want to come to Biloxi for a lifetime,” Creel said. Vincent Creel does exactly that and then some. He is open and honest, making sure the public is educated about everything the city is involved in. The citizens may not always be pleased with the information he presents to them, and they might not agree with what is in the works, but they are always kept in the loop and can find out about everything at any given time with a phone call or going online. “I do my best to explain to everyone why a decision was made, and I clearly present the pros and cons of each situation in an effort to make them understand. They may not always agree with the outcome, but they will be well informed. Mayor Holloway never makes a rash decision, there is a great deal of thought and careful weighing in of all sides each and every time something is on the table,” Creel said.
Vincent Creel has always been interested in politics, perhaps because public service has been particularly important in the Creel family. For seven terms his grandfather, J. A. “Tony” Creel was the Biloxi City Commissioner. “My grandfather was the longest serving local elected official and I am very proud of that,” he said. Vincent Creel fondly refects on his childhood and the wonderful memories of growing up on the Back Bay. He remembers well when Biloxi was the home of numerous seafood processing factories. “You could smell the shrimp juice when you were out on the streets and people would say it was the smell of money! You would see a 30 foot tall pile of oyster shells on the Bay and that was nothing out of the ordinary when I was growing up,” Creel said.
2/3rds of the budget collections in sales tax and gaming taxes is a direct result of tourists and visitors to Biloxi. Creel said that now is the most prosperous time in the 300 year history of the city, and it is not just because of casinos. Casinos are without a doubt, the number one attraction on the Coast but there are a wealth of museums and historical properties here that are a huge draw as well. “Before Katrina, I was in the process of getting all the museums on the same page. I wanted all of them to be open the same hours, and I was working toward the development of one ticket that would allow access to all the museums, not one ticket per museum. I am hopeful that we can get back to a similar plan today,” Creel said. Beauvior is well on the way to being an attraction of national prominence. Biloxi is most definitely in the public eye and the whole country is watching and waiting to see what’s next. Vincent Creel is doing his utmost to keep Biloxi on the cutting edge of the tourism and visitors market.
There are many exciting things afoot in the city of Biloxi. The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art will soon have a gorgeous new landscape to compliment the avante-garde design of the exterior. On Point Cadet there will be a museum that is reminiscent of a ship in a glass bottle, which will be a remarkable sight to see as you come across the Biloxi Bay bridge. “The terrible crisis of Katrina wound up presenting a world of opportunities and we have done our best to capitalize on them. As bad as it was, and because our lives were changed forever, there was now a clean slate and endless possibilites, things we never thought of before! And the money we received allowed us to move forward in a big way,” Creel said. A symbol of that new beginning is the beautiful Biloxi Bay Bridge.
It saddens and angers Vincent Creel that there has been quite a division in the business of Coast tourism promotion. Two distinct groups continue to battle it out for the control of how to spend the 16 million dollars that came as a result of the BP oil spill. Rather than joining forces and rolling up their sleeves and making those funds work in a cohesive manner, they fight about it. Rather than working together to promote the entire Gulf Coast, they have splintered the advertising campaign(doubled the costs for creative and everything else)and are gridlocked. “We are missing the boat and bogged down…the two groups talk about working together, but they never do work together. Of course there is always going to be a competition among all the cities on the Gulf Coast. They are proud of what they have to offer, but I am most proud of the fact that I am working for the city and living in the community, right here in Biloxi where it all began 300 years ago,” Creel said.
Biloxi is in the process of having an entire new infrastructure, including new water, sewers and drainage, new sidewalks and streets. It is expected to be complete in five years. “We are actually behind the rest of the Coast cities as they are almost finished now. The reason for that is because Biloxi is a low lying peninsula. Many of the issues we have over here are very different from the other Coast cities,” Creel said. One example of a huge set back was because it was decided by FEMA that the underground pipes were deemed to be the wrong material, so everything that had been done, had to be dug up and started all over again to be compliant. “The level of destruction was unprecedented from Katrina and the scope of the recovery is as well. You cannot do this stuff fast, this is rebuilding almost an entire city! The money must be spent wisely and with great caution…they whole world is watching! Things must be done right and there is no margin for error. There will be another hurricane someday and how the city comes through it will be dependent upon what we do now and how we do it,” Creel said. The Coast, and more specifically Biloxi, has enjoyed great national media attention since Katrina through USA Today, The New York Times, in addition to some major network news shows.
It is important to note that when comparing Gulfport to Biloxi, the two cities started out very differently. Gulfport was a planned city from square one, but Biloxi truly evolved. Gulfport was fashioned by city planners that mapped out the directions of the streets and everything else, whereas Biloxi started out from Point Cadet and the engine of the economy was the seafood industry. The harvesting of fresh Gulf seafood created jobs, opportunities and created wealth. Eventually the seafood industry was challenged by the ever changing weather conditions and then the cost of fuel. Shrimp began being imported from other places and everything changed. In 1978, Vietnamese people came to settle on the Coast and they revived the shrimping businesses. “If it hadn’t been for the Vietnamese immigrants, we probably would not have had a seafood industry anymore – they kept it alive. It has always been a very tough way to make a living,” Creel said. Today, we have just as many shrimp but there are fewer vessels catching them, therefore fewer shrimpers. Now very large boats, that can stay out for days at a time, bring in the big catches. In order to continue to make a living for their families, the Vietnamese fisherman had to find alternative sources of income and many of them found employment at the casinos.
What makes Biloxi so unique and different from any other city in the country is it’s history, it’s traditions, and above all else, it’s people. “We don’t want to be Las Vegas…we want to be Biloxi. We have 300 years of history here and so much to see and do. Yes, Vegas has beautiful golf courses too but they don’t have deep sea fishing or Mardi Gras! Our locals are known for their hospitality, friendliness and warmth. People come for a vacation or business trip, fall in love with the area then come back and stay for good…it happens all the time,” Creel said.
The Public Affairs Manager of Biloxi does not have a staff of trusted employees or a team of assistants. He works completely on his own and does a remarkable job. The Ad Group (Advertising Agency) is responsible for taking Creel’s vision and ideas, and turning them into beautiful presentations and professional finished products. Robin Stephens and Renny Sherman work closely with Creel and never fail to deliver the goods. In addition, Knight Abbey Printing has been doing all the copy/print work for the city since Katrina. Creel is very appreciative of the fine work they do and depends on their services frequently.
You will find Vincent Creel at City Hall, often meeting with Mayor Holloway and closely monitor the daily operations of Biloxi. Although Creel loves his job, it is not without it’s stresses and difficulties. He relies on the comfort of the Serenity Prayer when things get out of hand. It is a calming respite for those rough days. “It is my job to tell people about existing policies, proposed policies and our program of work. It is not my job to make policies,” Creel said. Holloway and Creel enjoy a close working relationship built on mutual respect and a genuine fondness for one another. “I have learned so much from the mayor in these 17 years and I am so grateful for his support.”
Vincent Creel is known for his infectious enthusiasm and he certainly does not hold back or mince words when it comes to his beloved Biloxi home. He is passionate about his work and when given the chance, he will sing Biloxi’s praises from the rooftops! He is happily married to his wife Natalie, and has a son, Jedediah. In a tender moment, Creel also acknowledged his parents and thanked them for the stable, happy home he grew up in and for the many sacrifices they made for he and his siblings. In closing Vincent Creel had this to say, “It’s been a great life so far, and I am doing my best to follow God’s master plan. We (Biloxi) reach some sort of milestone every day, and that is really exciting. I am so honored to be a part of it all.”
Go To Places Monthly is proud to name the Public Affairs Manager of Biloxi, Vincent Creel, as our Mover and Shaker for the month of August