Vicksburg approves urban renewal

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 19, 2002

[03/19/02]After eight months of planning, Vicksburg officials approved plans for downtown revitalization Monday, clearing the way for the work to begin in the next few months.

“Urban renewal is out the door and we’re going to take off now,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “I plan to show the community what urban renewal can do if you do it right.”

City Planner Ronnie Bounds also answered 14 questions posed by citizens about the plan presented at a public hearing two weeks ago. The plan as approved includes infrastructure improvements in downtown and the elimination of areas identified as “slum” and “blight” under state law.

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Funding will come from about one-third of the $17.5 million city officials borrowed through a bond issue in November.

“This is something that will go down in history because we will address needs that have really been needed for a long time,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young.

Most of the comments at the public hearing had been in support of the project although a few people raised concerns about plans to move some businesses. Part of the plan includes acquiring 48 properties and moving 20 businesses.

Questions about losing tax revenue by moving those businesses and reasons for taking the businesses out of downtown were asked. Bounds said that combined, the businesses that will be moved pay $19,500 per year in property taxes.

By comparison, property taxes on the new Rite Aid store on Clay Street are $16,000 per year, the same as on the former Valley Department Store building on Washington Street.

“It tells you that property values in downtown are not improving like they are in other areas,” Bounds said.

Leyens also said that because The Valley is owned by his family, it and three other downtown buildings he owns have been carved out of the urban renewal zone and will not receive any public funding.

Bounds also said city officials hope most of the 20 businesses identified in the plan for relocation will stay in the downtown area. He identified three businesses he said are not appropriate for downtwn:

Rocking Horse Motors, 20 N. Washington St.

R&B Auto Repair, 714 Main St.

Ready Ice Company, Mulberry Street.

The new plan, following a federally funded effort in the 1970s, will cost about $5.6 million.

The city plans to purchase properties in the urban renewal 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.

The city will pay the cost to move businesses under the plan.

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.

Leyens also said Monday that the city will replace the bricks in the 1300 and 1400 blocks of Washington Street with new bricks instead of asphalt as had been planed.

“We’ve agreed to restore the bricks for the entire six blocks, not just two blocks,” Leyens said.

Bounds said that although the plan has been approved, nothing in it is automatic. The board will still have to take official action before any work will begin.

He said that the city may begin next month to acquire some vacant properties in downtown for landscaping. The most visible work is expected to start this summer when Washington Street is repaved, Bounds said.

The plan was prepared in part by Jimmy Gouras Urban Planning Consultant for $55,000.