City contracts to straighten Washington, remove bricks

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 31, 2002

[01/30/02]Two-way traffic is expected back on downtown Washington Street before Thanksgiving and the holiday shopping rush, and some business owners say they are looking forward to the change that returns the street to its pre-1977 arrangement.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen, in a special meeting Tuesday, executed a contract with Neel-Schaffer Inc. of Jackson for engineering work on the last one-way section of that street.

“We’re going to work real carefully on this so we have the least amount of impact on the merchants possible,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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Christi Bounds, co-owner of The Cinnamon Tree and Twigs, said she is looking forward to the improvements planned for downtown, which will include new sidewalks, street resurfacing, landscaping and new lighting .

“I’m really, really excited,” Bounds said, but also said that she is apprehensive about what the construction will do to business.

“You can’t help but wonder how it will affect business in the interim,” she said.

The city’s retail center underwent big changes as part of a federal Urban Renewal plan 35 years ago. Included were the brick streets, lights, some shrubbery and facades that remain along with a fountain, amphitheater and the two parking garages that have been removed or sold.

The new project for downtown Washington Street has been broken into three phases with the first phase scheduled to begin around July 15. Phase one is between Veto and Grove streets and will cost $2.1 million.

Phases two and three will include work on Veto and China streets and will cost an additional $900,000. When those projects will be completed has not been set, but are expected to be budgeted for 2003.

The cost of the engineering for all three phases will be $460,000. The project is being funded out of the $17.5 million bond issue by the city.

“I have high hopes that this is going to change the atmosphere of downtown Vicksburg,” said Darlene Hortman, owner of Sashay, a downtown business.

Hortman, who opened her shop in October, said that she expects the work will cause some problems for the businesses, but that it will be worth the trouble for the five months of construction.

To complete the project with the least amount of impact on downtown stores, the work will be done on one side of the road at a time. That will leave at least half of the street open to cars at all times.

The entire project will make all of Washington Street two-way and remove the brick roadway between South and Clay streets. The road will also be straightened and parallel parking put in on both sides of the street along its entire length.

Alice Hebler, the owner of Paper Plus since 1988, said making the five blocks of the downtown shopping district look the same would be something that will also benefit the business owners.

“I’m all for it,” Hebler said. “I think the benefits in the long run will make up for what we’ll suffer in the short term.”

Currently, different blocks of Washington Street have different types of parking. In the 1100 block, parallel parking is available on both sides of the road, but in the 1500 block the only parking is diagonal parking on only one side.