Urban renewal plan not acceptable to all

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 28, 2002

Mary Landers, owner of Discount Furniture Barn, talks about the brick walls original to the business that was built in 1931. Discount Furniture Barn is one of 20 businesses to be moved under the urban renewal plan. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[02/28/02]Mary Landers, owner of the Discount Furniture Barn, said she didn’t know her shop was one of the 20 businesses to be moved under a proposed revitalization of downtown Vicksburg.

“I don’t think it is right,” Landers said after hearing the news. “For them to say that either you do something or we’re going to take it from you. That’s not right,” she said.

City officials will hold a public hearing at 10 a.m. Friday at City Hall Annex where they will explain details of the proposal for downtown that includes acquiring 48 properties and moving 20 businesses over a period of several years. The plan is available at the City Clerk’s Office, but Landers said she had expected to hear from someone with the city if plans included her store.

“We’re busy and don’t get to meetings,” Landers said. “You would think they would have informed us.”

City Planner Ronnie Bounds said notices will go out to every property owner in the plan after approval by the city board, which could come Friday.

Officials announced plans in August to begin the new round of public works in downtown under a state law that allows municipalities to declare an urban renewal zone. Under that law, a city can acquire property identified as “slum” or “blight” for redevelopment.

The new urban renewal plan, following a federally funded effort in the 1970s, will cost about $5.6 million and is being funded as part of a $17.5 million bond issue by the city.

An informal survey of the area in the urban renewal plan identified 38 out of 67 structures in the proposed zone as “slum” or “blight.” Bounds said that although the Discount Furniture Barn building at 600 Jackson St., is not “slum” or “blight,” the city wants to use the structure for other things.

“We hope to get something in that structure that will significantly attract people to downtown,” Bounds said.

The building is listed in a 1931 city directory as a merchandise warehouse owned by Henry Schlottman Jr. Landers said that the large windows along the riverside of the building had been loading docks, and at least one rail is still in the ground about 20 feet in front of the shop.

“All I’ve heard is that he (Mayor Laurence Leyens) is redeveloping the area,” said Landers, who added that she doesn’t know where she would be able to find another adequate building for the business.

Bounds said the building will be used for a business that will help attract tourists to the area near the Levee Street Depot and where plans call for gardens. The city purchased the 95-year-old depot building in October for $215,000 and plan to make it part of the waterfront development.

Other buildings the city plans to acquire in order to redevelop for tourism include most of the structures in the 1500 block of Washington Street where plans call for a Vicksburg Convention Center hotel.

In all, 20 shops are targeted to be moved. The city plans to purchase properties in that zone that do not meet city ordinances or for other development. The properties will then be restored by the city and sold for private development or sold to developers under contract to restore the property.

Bounds said the urban renewal plan will be phased out over a 10-year period and some buildings may not be purchased by the city for several years.

“It’s not going to be an earth-shattering thing where we’re going to go down there and tell someone they have to move the first day,” Bounds said.

The city will also pay to move the businesses.

Contracts between the city and developers will specify how the property can be used based on the urban renewal plan. Proposals for those properties will be awarded based on how the plan fits into the historic district.

“We are really hoping that the community will come to the meeting and get involved,” Leyens said of the hearing.

Downtown plans include most of Washington Street between Depot and First East streets and most of the area between Washington Street and the Mississippi River.

Although the mayor personally owns at least four properties in the downtown area, all are specifically carved out to meet state conflict-of-interest criteria.