Leyens to downtown owners: Pass muster or be closed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 28, 2001

[11/28/01]Fire, structural and health inspections were ordered Tuesday for all structures in Vicksburg’s proposed “urban renewal” zone with Mayor Laurence Leyens pledging to shut down any that do not comply.

The directive to city inspectors says to begin the work this week if possible. Owners are to be notified of all defects and be given time to make needed changes or repairs.

“It’s a critical part of urban renewal that we get all of these buildings up to code,” Leyens said. “There are going to be no exceptions.”

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About $5 million of a $17.5 million bond issue by the city is to be spent revitalizing the downtown area. Unlike the federal grant program of the 1970s that modernized downtown areas across the country, the city’s plan is targeted at maintaining the historic look of the area.

But, Leyens said, buildings that are in disrepair must first meet long-established codes.

“Instead of the taxpayers having to buy these buildings and fix them up, the owners need to fix them or sell them,” Leyens said.

He said that since the city announced its plan to revitalize downtown, building owners have raised the asking price for their properties, but that in many cases, the buildings are not in good condition.

State law allows cities to establish an urban renewal area and acquire property to sell to developers with defined conditions of how the property will be used. The legislation also allows the city to remove areas defined as slum and blight.

Leyens said the city’s goal is not to have to go in and tear down structures if the owners can be forced to repair the property. Another option, he said, is for the city to make repairs and place liens on the properties.

“We’re not going to tear down buildings that are historic,” Leyens said.

Although a proposed plan has been in the works since August, Leyens could not say how many buildings would fall in the urban renewal area. Before the plan can be adopted, it must be presented at a public hearing and 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.

When originally announced, the plan was supposed to be ready for public inspection by Nov. 15, but Leyens said the city is awaiting a response from the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office before moving forward with the proposal.

The city moved on the $17.5 million bond issue last month after no member of the public protested at a public hearing. The proceeds from the sale of the bonds were expected to be delivered to the city this week.