City officials ask Byrum to change tourism ads

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Warner Byrum, owner of the Battlefield Inn, talks Monday about his ideas on what should be done to build a better tourism industry in Vicksburg.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[12/18/2001]A motel owner’s campaign for improving Vicksburg’s economy is damaging the city’s image, members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen say in a letter to Warner Byrum of Battlefield Inn.

In a letter Byrum made public, city officials don’t ask Byrum to cancel ads in The Vicksburg Post, but do urge him to continue his advertising campaign in a “positive” manner.

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The ads have been “unbelievably negative” and “counterproductive” Mayor Laurence Leyens said Monday.

The ad lists some of Vicksburg’s vanished businesses and empty buildings, blaming them on a “lack of commerce” that is currently choking cities throughout the country. Under the lists, Byrum writes that Vicksburg can fix its economic problems immediately by focusing on Civil War tourism.

“Vicksburg is one of America’s historic treasures, and if adequately and properly promoted, our community will become one of the South’s major tourist destinations and prosperity will be here for all of us,” writes Byrum, a Florida resident who spends most of the year operating his hotel in Vicksburg.

But Leyens, North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman say Byrum’s ads will only drive off the tourists it seeks to attract.

Leyens, who called for giving citizens more of a voice in government during his campaign earlier this year, said the letter was not an attempt to muzzle Byrum.

However, the mayor said, Byrum chose the wrong forum for his advertisement.

“He’s a really sad story,” Leyens said. “Instead of coming down here to participate in our meetings and being constructive, he’s whining in the newspaper. It’s really counterproductive.”

Young said Byrum’s concerns should have been expressed in a “less public” way.

“If we’re all going to be one community, we don’t want to put our dirty laundry out for everyone else in the world to see,” Young said. “We need to solve our differences on our own.”

Beauman, serving his first term as alderman, said that Byrum’s problems list should not be associated with city officials.

“Those all happened under a previous administration,” Beauman said.

The list in the ad, which was printed as recently as Monday, is also deceiving, Leyens said, pointing out that the Red Lobster building is a new home for A.L. Tanner Jewelers. Separately, he said the MV Mississippi stands an “excellent chance” of receiving government funding to become a museum.

Leyens also pointed to the downtown redevelopment plan, one of the beneficiaries of the $17.5 million bond issue passed in October, as a step toward improving commerce in Vicksburg.

“We are fixing these things right now, and all Warner Byrum can do is complain,” Leyens said.

But Byrum said the mayor’s entire approach to attracting commerce is flawed.

“In my 73 years on this earth I have never witnessed a more ridiculous, wasteful effort than the … bond issue,” Byrum wrote in a Dec. 10 reply to the city board’s letter. Instead of borrowing money, he said Monday, the city should simply spend more money on tourism and “let the free market do its work.”

“If we get more people to come to Vicksburg, they will spend money, create commerce, and, before you know it, there will be new businesses that come up and fix up all these ugly old buildings,” said Byrum, who has led a campaign the Battle for Vicksburg to raise more than $1 million to place tourist billboards at 10-mile intervals on the major highways that lead into the city.