City buys three buildings,makes offers on five others

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 13, 2002

Vicksburg officials made offers Thursday to buy five more downtown properties including the dilapidated Walnut Towers office building.

The amount of the offers is not made public until the owners accept. So far, the city has acquired three properties and spent $669,500 in its revitalization strategy.

“It had been real slow going for a while there, but we’re catching up now, and we hope to see some real improvements soon,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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Walnut Towers, 1500 Walnut St., was built in the mid-1970s on top of a three-level parking garage that once served downtown shoppers. It was leased from private, out-of-state owners for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until 1988 when it was condemned as unsafe. The federal employees were first moved to converted office space in the old Battlefield Mall on North Frontage Road and then to a new privately owned facility on East Clay Street in 1996.

Downtown, the five-story, rust-stained, white Walnut Towers has sat vacant except for street-level areas used by the City of Vicksburg for storage.

The building is now owned by Charles Abraham and David Abraham. Plans are to demolish the building and rehabilitate the former parking garage for downtown businesses.

In all, the city plans to purchase 20 parcels identified in the first phase of its urban renewal project. State law allows the city to buy property identified in an urban renewal zone, rehabilitate the buildings and then sell them to private developers or keep them for public use.

Appraisals are done on each property, and the value is reviewed by a second appraiser before the city makes an offer. Acquiring property in downtown is part of the city’s $5.6 million revitalization plan being funded out of a $17.5 million in bonds issued in November 2001.

Plans for the properties already acquired include demolishing the Miller building and the MBC building. The city contracted an architect last week to draw up plans to rehabilitate the former Western Auto building.

In all, the city plans to acquire 48 properties during the next 10 years and sell them to people who pledge to improve them or set them aside for public use. Plans also call for 20 businesses to be moved.