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Bring next art exhibitionto Vicksburg, Leyens says

Mayor Laurence Leyens addresses members of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.(The Vicksburg Post/C.TODD SHERMAN)

[9/28/01]Vicksburg should seek the next major art exhibition in Mississippi, Mayor Laurence Leyens said Thursday.

Jack Kyle, who has organized three exhibits invited the mayor to put it in writing.

“Today,” Leyens said.

Leyens’ comments came at a meeting of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau board at which Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, was being honored.

Kyle, who lives in Vicksburg, was the driving force behind three international exhibitions in Jackson. “The Majesty of Spain” closed as this month began. It followed “The Palaces of St. Petersburg” and “The Splendors of Versailles” in attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Mississippi.

During the presentation of a plaque from the VCVB, Kyle said he is already working on an exhibit for 2003 from Dresden, Germany.

The VCVB, funded by a 1 percent additional tax on motel rooms, restaurant meals and bar tabs, spends nearly $1 million a year advertising Vicksburg as a destination and developing the tourism industry.

Leyens, who became mayor on July 1, said unity, coordinated efforts and the private sector are keys to a new level of success. “We are one community and we need to work together … we need to remove the walls that separate us,” Leyens said. “The bottom line is the same bottom line for all of us. It has to do with the quality of life, standard of living, our economic future.”

The VCVB and its executive director, Lenore Barkley, have done a good job getting the city’s name and what it has to offer visitors before the public, Leyens said. As evidence of that, the Vicksburg National Military Park gets nearly a million visitors a year, but only a small percentage of those visitors head to downtown Vicksburg.

“We believe Vicksburg’s identity is associated with the river,” Leyens said, adding that much of the downtown redevelopment and other work he plans will orient the city toward the Mississippi and the Yazoo Diversion Canal.

Even the soccer and softball complexes listed in the projects the city plans to fund with an $18 million bond issue announced Wednesday are targeted for being near the river.

Also part of the plan, Leyens said the city administration plans to buy blighted buildings in downtown, build new facades and resell them.

The idea is to “make downtown Vicksburg the tourist product it should be,” he said.