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Bottom benches staying, area being expanded

Street Department employee Macon Thompson, left, floats and levels cement on the foundation for a public pavilion at Delia’s Park in Marcus Bottom.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[9/1/04]Park benches in Marcus Bottom are not only staying, the vacant lot known as Delia’s Park is growing.

Vicksburg crews began this week pouring concrete for a 20-by-24-foot pavilion to be erected on the vacant city-owned lot where people have gathered for generations, but not always with the blessing of City Hall.

The project will cost about $7,200 and will include picnic tables, landscaping and barbecue grills, said David Clement, city architect.

Former Mayor Robert Walker, who lives nearby and was first elected in 1989, said during his first years in office that it looked bad to people driving through the area to have people just hanging out.

But he was followed in office by Mayor Joe Loviza, who put benches in the area during his four years from 1993 to 1997. Walker, elected to a second term in 1997, removed the seats again.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who replaced Walker nearly four years ago, also replaced the benches removed by Walker. Tuesday, he said the work is part of initiatives to clean up the area once associated with crime and drugs.

“We’re making a public park so that the old men have some place to sit, other than out under the sun by the street,” Leyens said.

For their part, the park regulars say they’re not hurting anything.

“What that city administration did, it wasn’t a good idea,” Freddie Kaiser said of attempts to do away with the gathering place.

Kaiser, 2613 Pearl St., said he goes to the park every day after 2 p.m. when he gets off work from Cooper Lighting. He said it’s a good place for people to gather, visit and watch the world go by.

“I come here, get a bottle of water and sit here and relax. I sit here and talk to the fellas,” Kaiser said.

Also a product of the first Walker administration is an open-container ordinance that bans consumption of alcoholic beverages in public.

Calvin Carter, who lives in Openwood Plantation, but works in the city, said he also likes to sit under the oak trees and visit.

“The people here come here to relax,” Carter said.

About once a month, several of the regulars at Delia’s Park like to gather and cook out. Kaiser said they are looking forward to the completion of the new pavilion that should make things nicer.

“We’ll feed anybody that comes by,” Kaiser said.

The tiny park is named for Delia Mae Lowe, who owned Delia’s Dew Drop Inn next door at 2510 Halls Ferry Road, said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young who has had the area, now in the South Ward, added to her turf for next year’s election.

“One of the things (the residents) asked for was a place to sit out and barbecue, and that’s what we’re doing,” Young said.

Marcus Bottom has been the subject of stories and books as the epicenter of working-class black society for decades. Halls Ferry, one of two main routes to downtown Vicksburg from the south passes directly through the neighborhood.

Starting in the 1970s, the narrow, twisting road was widened and drainage was improved. As recently as this summer major landscaping has taken place with the addition of medians with flowers and shrubs and 1800s-style light posts.

The work at Delia’s Park includes using dirt removed from a hill along Halls Ferry Road at Confederate Avenue to level off the lot and bring the land up to street level.

All the work is being done by city crews.