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New urban renewal’ lined up for downtown

[08/17/01] A new round of major public works is on the way for downtown Vicksburg with authorization of a plan to redevelop areas around the city waterfront and the shopping district.

Jimmy Gouras Planning Consultants was hired by city officials Thursday to guide the first major “urban renewal” since the 1970s when Gouras was employed as Vicksburg’s first city planner.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the plan will help encourage development in downtown.

“This is a substantial step toward our strategic plan for this fiscal year,” Leyens said.

Although federal grants were abundant for the 1970s project, draft documents for a new city budget show Leyens, inaugurated in July, wants to use revenue bonds to provide long-term financing for capital projects.

The 1970s work included the two parking garages since sold to Harrah’s, connecting tunnels, brick streets, light fixtures, planters and a hillside courtyard and fountain on Crawford Street between Walnut and Washington. Stores got new facades as part of that plan to modernize downtown Vicksburg.

“Our plan isn’t going to be to modernize, our plan is going to be to develop the infrastructure to make it a tourist attraction,” Leyens said.

He said the city will work to keep a historic look in the downtown area while clearing areas identified as slum or blight.

State law allows cities to establish an urban renewal area and acquire property without using the power of eminent domain and going through the court systems. The city can then sell the property to developers with state conditions of how the property will be used.

“In this area, there are not many houses, so we will not be displacing many people,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

Slum and blight areas are defined by the state law that provides for urban renewal as areas that are “detrimental to the public health, safety, morals or welfare.” The law sites various conditions such as dilapidation, building code violation or crime as factors contributing to identifying an area as slum or blight.

Leyens said that with the plan, the city will be able to clear areas downtown that do not fit development guides and that control growth in the area. One of the biggest objectives in the plan is the waterfront development, he said.

“The city gets to establish a plan and we get to guarantee the outcome for the private sector,” Leyens said.

Before the plan can be adopted, it must be presented at a public hearing. The plan will include an inventory of the area in the zone and a plan for acquiring property and any relocation of any existing businesses that are determined .

Leyens said that no date has been set for the public hearing, but that he expects the process to be completed by Nov. 15.

“This is our strategic initiative. This is where we want to focus our efforts with our limited resources,” he said.