Vicksburg hands foundation deed to SCHC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 26, 2001

[06/26/01] In a 2-1 decision Monday, Vicksburg officials voted to give the deed to the Southern Cultural Heritage Complex to the center’s private foundation.

Mayor Robert Walker voted against signing over the historic buildings at Clay, Cherry, Adams and Crawford streets because the city spent $1 million in 1994 to buy the property. He said it would have been better to lease the buildings to the foundation for $1 a year and keep the property in the city’s inventory.

“I just have a concern that a million-dollar gift of a building sets a very dangerous precedent here,” Walker said.

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The city created the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation as a municipal department in 1994 after buying all five buildings in the former convent and school complex. After supporting the center’s operational costs for six years, the administration cut financial ties with the center starting with the current budget year. The SCHF has had a management agreement since.

Ted Smith, departing as director of the foundation, said having the deed to the buildings will give the organization more freedom to operate and greater opportunities to seek grants as a non-profit organization without ties to a municipal government.

“We’re very pleased to be owning the building,” Smith said. “We feel like it is the final step to our total independence with a bright and lasting future ahead.” Smith has resigned to return to the University of Mississippi. During the past year, the complex, with buildings dating to the 1860s, has seen increasing use for lectures, meetings and other community programs. The elementary school auditorium was also the setting for part of the motion picture, “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”

When the previous city administration purchased the buildings, plans were eventually to turn the property over to the foundation, North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young said.

The only member of the current administration who was a part of the previous administration, Young said she did not support buying the property, but felt the current board should abide by the original plans.

“If they are not able to abide by the resolution then the building comes back to us in 12 months,” Young said.

Under an agreement worked out in 1999 between the city and the center, if the foundation ceases to operate as a cultural center or no longer exists, the buildings are returned to the city.

“I think what we’re doing here is fulfilling an obligation,” South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb said.

Smith said that since the city stopped funding the center nine months ago, operation of the center has been going well.

“We are offering more activities now than we ever have,” he said.

Habeeb, who did not seek re-election, will leave office next week when South Ward Alderman-elect Sid Beauman takes the oath of office. Walker was defeated by Laurence Leyens who will take office Sunday with Beauman and Young, who will begin her third term.

In other matters, the board:

Accepted a letter from the attorneys withdrawing an appeal for a special exemption to the zoning ordinance of property on Miller Street. Some Marion Park residents had opposed using the site for storage and transfer of manufactured homes, but the withdrawal makes the issue moot.

Received a dividend check for $81,973 from the Mississippi Municipal Service Company. The company provides workers compensation insurance for city employees.

Received bids for repairs and improvements to the retaining wall and parking lot adjacent to St. Paul Catholic Church.

Approved a change order for improvements along North Washington Street between First East Street and Haining Drive. The combined total of the changes increases the cost of the $1.9 million project by $10,012.

Approved a change order for sewer improvements in South Ward areas annexed in 1990. The changes increase the cost of the project by $11,501.

Approved an ad for the Vicksburg Homecoming Benevolent Club for $100.

Approved a full-page ad in The Vicksburg Post for the Miss Mississippi Pageant for $1,111.

Amended the rental rate for the Vicksburg Convention Center paid by the Miss Mississippi Pageant from $11,000 to $7,000 because two additional commercials for the city will be provided during the televised program.

Authorized the City of Vicksburg to employ Labor Finders to clean up the convention center after the inauguration July 1.

Approved the claims docket.

Discussed personnel matters in a closed session.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen will meet again at 10 a.m. Friday at City Hall.