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Locals see economic help from congressional delegation

[03/09/01] Mississippi’s congressional delegates may be helping Vicksburg plan its economic and industrial future after meeting with representatives of area businesses and city and county officials in Washington, D.C.

“It was very productive,” Lenore Barkley, director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Thursday after she and other members of the local delegation returned. “All of our delegates were very receptive and indicated they would do what they could to help us.”

The group, known as the Downtown Task Force, met with U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering, Bennie Thompson, Roger Wicker and Ronnie Shows and Sen. Thad Cochran and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott to discuss plans for new museums, port extensions, railroad relocation and tourism promotion.

“I’m real encouraged about the way it went,” said Bobby Bailess, attorney with Wheeless, Shappley, Bailess and Rector. “They weren’t promising anything, but Congressman Thompson, Sen. Cochran and Sen. Lott were especially encouraging.” Vicksburg is in Thompson’s district. Senators are elected statewide.

The group discussed with the delegates building an interpretive museum that would incorporate the MV Mississippi, the former Corps of Engineers flagship towboat that was given to the city five years ago and has been docked and rusting since. Such a project would now cost an estimated $12 million.

The task force also suggested making the Pemberton House, at 1110 Crawford St., part of the Vicksburg National Military Park. Making Pemberton House part of the park would require no additional legislative authority, said Jimmy Heidel, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Because so many people visit the park each year, and so few come downtown, the addition would draw more tourists to the downtown area, he said.

An expansion of the Port of Vicksburg is also being looked into. The force is asking legislators to allow a study to see if it is feasible to construct an additional 80 acres of land at the port with a projected cost of $400,000.

“We lost two potential industries last year because we didn’t have any industrial land located on the water,” Heidel said.

The port also needs funding for its public terminal facility to repair rails, cranes and the warehouse.

Railroads were a big issue as well. Traffic has increased by 30 percent in the past two years and is expected to increase 30 percent more in the next two years, Heidel said. Residents and the task force would like to see the rails moved to a less occupied location, he said.

“All the congressional delegates are looking at this program in their perspective areas,” Heidel said.

Other suggestions include a rail that will connect Warren County and Hinds County, a feasibility study by the Corps of Engineers to develop the only golf course on the river and making Interstate 20 six lanes to ensure better safety.

Rural housing was also an important issue at the meeting. Heidel said accommodating people with safe housing in the area is difficult so the force is asking for a waiver extension that would allow them greater eligibility in housing funding programs.

Overall, members of the task force said the trip was a positive one and they expect to see positive results.

“I came away from the meeting feeling good,” Main Street director Rosalie Theobald said. “I have great expectations some of these things are going to go through.”

Those in Washington were also impressed with the task force’s plans and presentation.

“I had an excellent meeting with the group,” Cochran said.

The overriding factor for the proposal was the benefit to the community at whole, Heidel said.

“We addressed several community needs to create a stronger economy and better quality of life,” he said.