THE DART | Roots bring developer back to East Biloxi

Businessman sees area’s potential

Chris Eaton is bullish on Biloxi.

The Ocean Springs developer is supervising the construction of three houses in East Biloxi, and he has five more he expects to complete in the next three months.

The houses are going up in an area north of Howard Avenue between Claiborne and Kuhn streets, where The Dart landed this week.

Eaton grew up in Mandeville, La., but his mother’s family is from East Biloxi. Eaton said he spent many weekends visiting family there, so the area is familiar to him.

“I’m about as deeply rooted in the Coast as you can get,” he said. “I love it.”

Eaton’s roots in East Biloxi brought him back to the area when he started to build houses.

He saw a need for housing for employees of the proposed Margaritaville Casino. Though construction on the casino has come to a halt, he still feels good about his investment.

“Biloxi has incredible potential. Looking at how Second Street in Gulfport has progressed, I’d love to see the same thing happen along Howard Avenue,” he said with a confident smile.

“Biloxi has incredible infrastructure plans. The city of Biloxi is very helpful, all the personnel. It was very clear that they are trying.”

He is confident the economy will eventually turn around and bring Biloxi back with it.

“When I see Margaritaville and the others put their investment in, we’re poised to do the same,” he said. “You have to be prepared for the opposite swing.”

His crews were framing two houses and working on the stilts for a third.

The spring sun was emerging from behind clouds and the workers were swatting at the first gnats of the season. Across the street, Alma Dewey watched the work with anticipation.

“I love to see this,” she said. “It was so quiet, you could hear a car pass.”

Dewey moved back into her house in March 2009, and is eager to see the empty lots being rebuilt.

Eaton has a clear view of the Mississippi Sound across the empty lots south of Howard Avenue, and there are still more empty lots nearby than rebuilt houses in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

But the sound of hammers and saws gives hope.

“The area has so much potential,” he said.

By JOHN FITZHUGH – jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

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