It’s the … cleanup of the front door…’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Cash Ahner of Dirt Works operates a track hoe to tear down the old Battlefield Village mall this morning. (MEREDITH SPENCER The Vicksburg Post)

[1/11/05]After four years of pleading, begging and even threatening the previous owners, Mayor Laurence Leyens was more than happy to jump up on the tractor and take the first punch at the Battlefield Village mall.

The arm of the track hoe easily crushed through the 42-year-old brick wall that was once the front of McRae’s Department Store while nearly 50 people watched and cheered. Later in the day and today, workers used that same equipment to continue tearing down more of the building.

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“This is a big day for us and a big day for the community,” Leyens said. “It’s the beginning of the cleanup of the front door to our community.”

The building has been vacant since 1996 and has long been described as an eyesore along Vicksburg’s Interstate 20 corridor. It has been the target of two city administrations. City officials had taken the previous owners to court before the bank foreclosed on the property and it was later bought by Blackburn Motor Company.

J.E. “Brother” Blackburn announced plans in October to tear down the former mall and move his car dealership from 2011 Washington St., to the North Frontage Road property.

“We are ready to go ahead and knock this building down and get it to a rubbish landfill,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said the work, being done by Dirt Works of Vicksburg, is expected to take about 90 days. Asbestos abatement was completed last month.

Blackburn said he and his employees will operate their used-car dealership at the Battlefield site and will have more off-site sales of new cars there this year. Plans are to use about one-third of the 23-acre site for the Nissan, Chrysler and Dodge Jeep dealerships and develop the rest for retail by the end of the year.

He said the current dealership property on Washington Street will be sold or leased, but he said he has no specific plans.

Blackburn Motor Company has been in operation in Vicksburg since 1936 and at its present location since 1945. Several expansions have been made through the years, the most recent being the construction of the present showroom and office in 1972 and the present service facility, in 1998.

Battlefield Village was built as Vicksburg’s first all-weather shopping center and operated successfully until tenants began shifting to the new Pemberton Square, which opened in 1985. The Frontage Road space was converted into U.S. Army Corps of Engineers offices in 1988, but those employees moved in 1996 to new offices on East Clay Street.

The property has largely been vacant since. It was ultimately targeted for forced demolition at public expense until the previous owners, J&V Properties, declared bankruptcy last year.

A twin-cinema complex on the site was removed in 2002, and a former Sears auto center became a motorcycle and four-wheeler dealership last year. RiverHills Bank has a branch office on part of the former mall parking lot, and Trustmark National Bank operates a branch on an adjacent tract.