America's Largest Block Party: Cruisin' The Coast Revving Up In MS

GULFPORT, MS (AP) — Ten years after Hurricane Katrina cancelled Cruisin' The Coast, the Oct. 4-11 event is on course for record numbers.

         Billed as America's largest block party, the event drew 5,365 vehicles in 2004, the year before Katrina. Last year it brought a record 7,293 vehicles from 39 states, Canada and one overseas military address to South Mississippi.

         Registration this year is running about 250 cars ahead of the record pace, said Woody Bailey, Cruisin' executive director. Already 3,580 vehicles from 40 states are registered with three months to go.

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         Bailey doesn't attribute the increase in registration to low gasoline prices but to national advertising and past participants sharing their stories.

         "I think they spread the word," he said.

         This year more celebrities will appear at Cruisin' and two events will be expanded, Bailey told the Sun Herald.

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         Autocross was introduced last year as a one-day test of drivers' skills in their antique and classic cars. This year it will be a three-day event, he said. Monday will be a day for drivers to get familiar with the course and the next two days, Oct. 6 and 7, will be for running the timed event. The competition is free for all registered drivers.

         The swap meet — which has 250 vendors selling inside and outside the Coast Convention Center — this year will have a new director, Bob Millard. Bailey said the meet also will expand inside the Coast Coliseum.

         Performers at Cruisin' venues and casinos will be announced in July, and Bailey said along with them, "We have a great lineup of celebrities."

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         Courtney Hansen from PowerNation will return this year and Cristy Lee, who is seen on "All Girls Garage," will make her first appearance.

         Dennis Gage, star of the television show "My Classic Car," has been Cruisin' The Coast for years and will be filming for his show. He says on his website it's the venues that make the event so unique: "Like Ocean Springs with its tree-lined streets, trendy restaurants, great watering holes and some of the best folks you'll meet anywhere."

         Cruisin' began in 1996 with 374 registered vehicles.

         After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Cruisers came in RVs and rented parking space from property owners whose homes and businesses along U.S. 90 were destroyed.

         Now development is returning to the beach and Bailey said at the same time, "What's great is we're getting our hotel inventory opening up." Last year the White House Hotel in Biloxi opened. This year hundreds of new rooms are available at Island View Casino's South Tower in Gulfport and Silver Slipper Casino's new hotel in Hancock County.

         "Our mission is to help have an impact on the economy," Bailey said. The economic impact was calculated at $15 million before Katrina and has grown to more than $25 million annually as the largest special event in Mississippi.

         "It's definitely surpassed our expectations," Bailey said.

         Early-bird registration is $60 and is open until midnight on Aug. 15, then closes until Cruisin' begins. Onsite registration is $90.

         – by AP/ Reporter Mary Perez with The Sun Herald

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