City to spend $1 million on downtown projects

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 24, 2000

From antique-style lights to street improvements and a floating river museum, downtown Vicksburg is positioned to reap the benefits of more than $1 million from the city budget earmarked for projects in the area.

“In the next year, people can expect a much-approved appearance downtown,” said Mayor Robert Walker. “It will be something we can build on in future years.”

Several of the actions were listed as priorities in the downtown plan commissioned by the Main Street Program and developed by businessman and probable mayoral candidate Laurence Leyens. He said he is glad to see the city responding to his recommendations, but added the real test will be looking back in a year to see how many of projects are completed.

One is paving the Washington Street parking lot below St. Paul Catholic Church and repairing the wall between the church and the lot.

The repairs to the retaining wall are required as part of a lawsuit settlement between the city and the church.

Plans to landscape the parking lot and provide a pavilion for outdoor entertainment were scuttled after no deal could be reached on a commemorative statue celebrating an 18th-century treaty signed nearby between Spain and the Choctaw Indians. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians at one point were considering joint funding of such a project.

The plan is to use a budget amendment to transfer $170,000 from a special $600,000 fund set aside for raises for city employees.

“We did a little finagling to get that amount for the project,” Walker said at a recent meeting of the Downtown Task Force.

“The design will not be as sophisticated as what we talked about before, but there will be some landscaping and it will be level,” he said.

Also included will be $200,000 for widening Pearl Street near the Vicksburg Convention Center and adding a curb and gutter.

That section was damaged by convention center construction and has needed repairs for some time, said Public Works Director James “Bubba” Rainer.

About $30,000 is budgeted for building facades to cover tubes from Washington to Harrah’s parking garage. The facades will be fabricated building fronts designed to blend with the late 19th-century style of area buildings.

The Motor Vessel Mississippi is also part of the city’s downtown plans, with $150,000 earmarked in previous years for the Southern Cultural Heritage Center now dedicated to restoring the boat and moving it back to City Front.

While funds have been approved by Congress to include the boat in a Mississippi River museum and interpretive center, they won’t be available until next year at the earliest.

And Walker said he has been intentionally vague about the city’s plans for the center.

“I don’t want our ideas to be used by other cities,” he said.

Electrical engineers are consulting on yet another project, the long-awaited downtown street lights. Cooper Lighting, which has a plant in Vicksburg and has been a big backer of improvements, has agreed to donate part of the materials needed for the project, but the city is purchasing and installing antique-style light poles at a cost of about $136,000.

The capital fund includes $240,000 for the first stages of an ambitious landscaping project by City Landscaper Jeff Richardson, which will start at the City Front and extend into the downtown area.

Richardson has said he plans to highlight in three different gardens the flora of the hill country and the Mississippi Delta, which converge in the Vicksburg area, and the local flowering plants of spring. The plans also involve moving the City Front entrance to Jackson Street.

Another $100,000 is budgeted to extend the concrete area on the north side of City Front which was last extended under former Mayor Joe Loviza.