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Welcome center moving out temporarily

Gary Orscheln, his daughter, Emily, and wife, Sheryl, of Columbia, Mo., climb the stairs at the Mississippi Welcome Center to see the Mississippi River from Navy Circle. The modular units outside the building on Washington Street will be used for public restrooms and a visitor station while the building is closed for renovations.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[3/29/04]As tourism gins up, the Mississippi Welcome Center on Washington Street is shutting down for renovations as early as this week, diverting staff and travelers to temporary trailers.

The popular center at 4210 Washington St. is to undergo a 6-month makeover that will leave it with new fixtures and finishes, fresh paint inside and out and a clean exterior, said the state official in charge of the project, Jim Vinson.

The project at the welcome center, nestled between the river bridges where it presents a spectacular view of the Mississippi River, will cost at least $450,000, said Vinson, the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s chief architect. The general contractor is Paul Jackson & Son of Brookhaven, he added.

The center logged about 150,000 people during 2003. From the time it opened in 1980, after being built at a cost of about $2 million, the center has been furnished with antiques and comfortable decor. During business hours, staff members offer refreshments to visitors, answer questions and give personalized directions. Restrooms and the gallery overlooking the river have been open around the clock.

“Most of the welcome centers in the state are between 25 and 30 years old, and it’s just got to the point where we’re trying to renovate or do renovations and additions to our welcome centers,” Vinson said.

The Vicksburg center is one of 13 the state built and now operates to boost tourism. Vinson said a 14th center is under construction in the Coahoma County town of Lula, where U.S. highways 61 and 49 meet.

While the MDOT builds and maintains the structures, the Mississippi Development Authority provides staff.

“We’re going to tear out all the existing mechanical systems and fixtures and finishes in the men’s and women’s toilets and some more things inside the building,” Vinson said. All doors in the building will also be replaced, he added.

“Selective demolition” of parts of the building will begin as soon as utility connections and staff amenities are in place in the temporary trailers that will serve the public during the project. Work is expected to be completed by Nov. 30, Vinson said.

The two modular units that will be the center’s temporary home one each for visitors and public toilets and the temporary construction-management trailer were on-site last week. Neither Vinson nor welcome-center staff could say when the move into the trailers would take place, but it was expected to happen as early as this week.

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience,” Vinson said. “But this is something that the traveling public’s going to have to help us get through.”

Plans also call for the ornamental metal fence around the courtyard behind the building, where visitors may view the river and bridges, to be repainted, and for the masonry on the building’s exterior to be cleaned.

“We’re going to paint everything just to spruce it up and make it look new,” Vinson said. “It’s a pretty major renovation.”