Jackson Street center to open in month

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 14, 2002


[05/14/02]After eight years, three administrations and 18 months of construction, a new city building is almost ready to open but its name is indefinite.

The structure erected on the historic site where the Jackson Street YMCA was located was announced as the Jackson Street Creative Resource Center. It was later called the Jackson Street Multicultural Center and when advertised for construction, the project was called the Vicksburg Multi-Use Building. Today, letters affixed to the brick exterior of the $1.5 million facility name it the Jackson Street Community Center.

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The facility is expected to open in about a month and house youth and senior programs.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who called the project political when seeking office last year, says his administration has created a more defined role for the facility.

“They’ve built a full program of work for the center, and it will be well-used by our community,” Leyens said.

Operations at the center, across Monroe Street from City Auditorium, will be under the auspices of Diane Smith, director of the city’s human services department.

“It will be for everyone,” Smith said. “People of all ages will be using the center.”

On the list are after-school programs, senior aerobics, nutrition classes, mini-camps to teach sports to children and summer youth programs.

There are also plans to have parenting classes, first-aid classes and career development courses at the center, Smith said.

“It will not be a duplicate of Kings,” she said.

Critics of the project started under the former administration of Mayor Robert Walker said the new building is too close and would duplicate too many of the offerings of the city’s award-winning Kings Community Center.

Programs there include sports and center on youths who are not in school.

Smith said that the Jackson Street center’s youth programming will differ from at Kings, on North Washington about two miles from Jackson Street. It will also expand programs of the popular Vicksburg Senior Center now adjacent to City Hall, blocks away.

The Jackson Street center has a budget of $185,430 for this year and will have five full-time employees under the spending plan adopted in September. The budget for the Kings center is about $248,270 with six full-time employees.

The Jackson Street building houses a basketball court and two classrooms and plans call for a playground behind the building. Other indoor basketball and classroom space within blocks includes the Good Shepherd Community Center operated by the Methodist church; Grove Street Elementary, owned by the Vicksburg Warren School District but not used for students; and the former St. Francis school complex, owned by the city, but leased to a foundation for use as the Southern Cultural Heritage Complex.

Original plans for Jackson Street had included tennis courts, but were scaled back because of costs.

The site was the location of the Jackson Street YMCA from 1924 until it was closed after desegregation by Y officials. It was an important site for meetings and cultural events during the decades when racial mixing was illegal. It also served to provide housing for black people who traveled when they were not allowed in commercial hotels or motels.

Walker was offered the deed by the Y board in about 1990, but declined it after an inspection showed the building too deteriorated to restore. Mayor Joe Loviza accepted the deed in 1994 and the structure collapsed in 1995.

It was then that designs for a new structure were planned, but repeatedly scaled back, citing costs.