Art park’s completion expected next summer

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 19, 2004

A view of the site today where the city’s art park will be located. In the foreground are parts of the Sprague.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[7/18/04]A downtown art park, including a catfish-themed splash fountain and featuring parts from the sternwheeler Sprague, is expected to be completed next summe.

“Instead of cleaning something up, we’re creating a new place that will be a tourist draw and someplace for our children,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

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Today, the area between Clay and Grove streets is little more than a gravel parking lot and long-ago abandoned fountain seldom visited. The recent addition of murals along the City Front floodwall has started drawing more people into the area and improvements along Washington Street have spurred new development in the area.

City officials’ hopes are that a year from now people will be bringing their children to view the interactive displays or visit the steamboat playground planned as part of the park drawing more private investment in the downtown area.

“I think it’s very exciting,” said Lisa Grant, an art teacher at Vicksburg Intermediate School.

“It’s going to be a real plus for downtown,” she said.

Lesley Silver, owner of the Attic Gallery, 1101 Washington St., said she sees the planned park as a bonus for downtown, but also as something great for families.

“What I care about is getting kids some place that is not in the confines of the house and doesn’t involve electricity,” Silver said.

Camo Construction of Vidalia, La., won the bid to build the park on the second round after initial bids came in over budget. The contractor’s previous work has included a $1.8 million drainage project for the City of Vidalia, the $1 million repairs to the Neshoba County Lake dam and a $1 million fountain plaza in Vidalia.

The city’s project is being funded out of the $17.5 million bond issue in 2001, but despite the price tag most people said they still supported the plans.

“To me, I think it’s a little pricey, but I trust the (city) leadership that we have,” Grant said.

The park will also have a sound system to pipe in sounds from the river and music, a steamboat whistle that will blow every hour during the day and artistic smoke stacks scattered throughout. Future plans with the Vicksburg Art Association include paintings on walls along the outside of the park showing the history of the river, Leyens said.

“I don’t know a lot of specifics, but I’m happy about the development,” said Daniel W. Boone, incoming president of the local artists group. “I think it’s a wonderful thing and a park downtown could be a lot of fun,” he said. “I think it shows a lot of vision on behalf of our city leaders.”

Other plans near the park include a railroad museum proposed for the former Levee Street Depot and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers interpretive center at the foot of Jackson Street. The outside restoration of the depot was completed earlier this year and planning for the Corps center is nearly complete, Leyens said.

While the city is still looking for private individuals to take on the railroad museum, Leyens said all that is needed to get the Corps project under way is federal funding.

“Congress officially said no new construction would be funded this year, but we’re hearing we may still get it,” Leyens said.

The Corps center is a $4 million to $6 million project that could take two to three years, once funding is made available. City officials have also made plans to move the historic Fairground Street bridge to Jackson Street to incorporate into the area.

Plans also include docking the MV Mississippi as part of the museum about the history of the Corps on the river.

Last year, the city wrapped up a $2.6 million reconstruction of downtown Washington Street, and the $5.6 million urban renewal project is ongoing.