New Gulfport Main Street Association director aims to enhance appeal of downtown Gulfport

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - There is a new person who is overseeing the development of downtown Gulfport. Her vision is to turn downtown into an area where you can work, shop and even call home. Meet the city's new Main Street director Laurie Toups.

Filling up vacant buildings and empty lots is one of Toups' top priorities. She said the downtown area has already undergone a revitalization after Hurricane Katrina with the Facade Grants and Streetscape Project.

Now, she said it's time to take downtown to the next level.

"What we'd like to see is upper floor housing, which is mixed use. You have your commercial downstairs, residential upstairs. We want people to be able to walk around, live here, play here, shop here," said Toups.

She would also like to bring in more retail businesses, like boutique shops.

"We're actively trying to recruit more retail into the area and the things you need when you live here. You need the laundry, you need the dry cleaners. You need the grocery store, the small hardware stores, all those things, flower shops. We have those things. We need to bring them all together," said Toups.

She also wants to showcase the arts through displays, festivals, live concerts and sporting events.

"We're working hand-in-hand with some of the universities and some of the galleries and the museums to get their ideas on how we can best put this together," Toups said.

She is excited about bringing her ideas to life. After all, she has roots in the city.

Toups was born in Gulfport and has spent the last 20 years in New Orleans. Her last position was director of the North Rampart Main Street program. Before Katrina, she served as director of the French Quarter Festivals.

"A lot of things are done in different places that people don't think about trying in their own hometown, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to bring those ideas and experience here. Not everything is going to work that worked there, because Gulfport is unique," said Toups. "So glad, so grateful to be back on the Coast, and I felt like the Coast opened its arms up to me."

Toups is back home now and ready to turn downtown into a more livable, walkable and accessible place.

"I want people to feel that Gulfport is that funky little place to go, and downtown is where it is to be," she said.

Toups said she has been trying to meet as many downtown merchants as possible since she started her new job. She plans to host a workshop in a few weeks for downtown business owners and potential developers and residents. She wants to hear their ideas on what they'd like to see in the downtown area. WLOX-TVhttp://tinyurl.com/kxtgf42