Mayoral candidates tell plans for tourism|[2/9/05]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Candidates for Vicksburg mayor on Tuesday pitched their plans for local tourism ranging from a sandbar and boardwalk along the Mississippi River to an entertainment zone.

So far only two candidates have signed up to be on the ballot for the May 3 primary, but five participated in the forum sponsored by the Vicksburg Hotel Motel Association.

One of those was former Mayor Joe Loviza, 65, who said he will mount a fourth campaign. Loviza was elected in his first run and served as mayor from 1993 to 1997. He then lost a bid for re-election to former Mayor Robert Walker. Loviza ran again in 2001 and came in a distant third behind Laurence Leyens, who was elected, and Walker.

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“I’m not running because I own a business or owe anyone anything. I’m running because I care about Vicksburg,” said Loviza, an educator and former dean of Hinds Community College operations here.

The topic for the forum was tourism and candidates were allowed 10 minutes each to plug their ideas.

Leyens, 40, who has said he plans to seek a second term but has not yet filed, said cleaning up Vicksburg was the first step in promoting the city as a tourism destination.

“A good marketing plan isn’t to just have someone come once and get ripped off or have a miserable time,” Leyens said. “You’ve got to get that word-of-mouth advertising because you can’t keep spending money advertising to get new people. Eventually you’ll run out of people.”

He said the community needs to continue work developing a softball complex off Halls Ferry Road and the proposed golf course overlooking the Mississippi River off Warrenton Road. Both projects have been designed under the current administration, but full funding for each has not yet been identified.

Leyens also touted the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame that began meeting in Vicksburg after years in Jackson and the return of a downtown Fourth of July celebration.

While Leyens promoted projects already in the works, other candidates said the city needs to do more. Warren County District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon, 44, who has not filed but has been campaigning for the Democratic nomination, suggested the city needs an entertainment district similar to Beale Street in Memphis.

“We’ve got a nice downtown. No parking, but it looks nice,” Selmon said. “Instead of spending all our money on downtown let’s use it on something we know will work.”

The city has spent $8.2 million in downtown including repaving Washington Street and downtown urban renewal. Those projects included money to redevelop the three-story parking garage at South and Walnut streets and complete the parking lot at Crawford and Washington streets.

The funding came from a $17.5 million bond.

John Shorter, 38, who has filed to be on the Democratic primary ballot, said he also supports creating an entertainment district as a means of filling local hotel rooms.

“Maybe they get a little intoxicated, get a room and stay the night,” Shorter said.

Shorter, a government contractor, also promoted an idea to create a beach and boardwalk along the Mississippi River for family activities.

“There are many vessels used as far as tourism and I think everything is going fine here in Vicksburg, but you need to develop another product,” Shorter said.

Eric Rawlings, 42, who is trying for the second time for the Democratic nomination after running unsuccessfully four years ago, said he also supports developing more family-oriented entertainment.

Rawlings suggested a river tour boat, miniature Six Flags and more restaurants.

“One of the things that I want to do is get that tour boat back in business,” Rawlings said.

The Sweet Olive, a Mississippi River tour boat, has been operating out of City Front since the summer of 2003 and offers various tours. Six Flags was also the operator of the Funtricity Family Entertainment Center at Rainbow Casino until it closed in 1998.

Loviza also said that people need to overcome any feelings they have about the past and promote all of the city’s ethnic groups’ histories – black, white and others.

Candidates for municipal office have until March 4 to qualify. Leyens and Loviza both previously ran as independents and would not appear on the ballot until the June 7 general election.

The salary for the office of mayor is $73,500. Under the current stepped ordinance, the salary will rise by 5 percent in 2006 and again in 2007.

Voters will also select a North Ward and South Ward alderman. So far, candidates for the North Ward seat are Vickie Bailey, 36, an independent; Rodney Dillamar, 45, Democrat; Michael Mayfield, 47, Democrat and incumbent Gertrude Young, 49, Democrat.

Only the incumbent, Sid Beauman, 57, a Republican, has filed for the South Ward race. Aldermen are paid $58,000.