Spruced-up welcome center reopens after year of work|[3/8/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 8, 2005

The welcome center building whose back patio provides one of the best views anywhere of the Mississippi River has been reopened after nearly a year of renovation.

The building at 4210 Washington St., was put back in service for visitors about two weeks ago. Modular units that were its substitute for about 10 months have been removed.

“It’s really nice,” said tour guide Anita Mueller, who was leading a group of 46 people from her native Bavaria region of Germany through the center Monday afternoon. “I like it, and everybody (on the tour) does.”

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Mueller said she had been to the center before and seen its views of the Mississippi River and river bridges.

“It’s incredible,” she said.

The center is state-operated along with others on Interstate corridors into Mississippi. During business hours, staff serve refreshments, answer questions and provide maps and brochures. Restrooms are open around the clock, and a security staff is always present.

The renovation included updating the restroom fixtures and plumbing, adding baby-changing tables to both men’s and women’s restrooms, replacing cabinets and some interior and exterior painting.

“It’s state-of-the-art plumbing,” said the Mississippi Department of Transportation district engineer, Walter Lyons. Lyons added that fixtures with electric eyes have been added in the restrooms so that all operate automatically.

“We’re proud of it,” Lyons said. “We know it’s the best welcome center in the state.”

While some welcome centers are starkly furnished, the center at the bridge and the locally operated welcome center near the entrance to the Vicksburg National Military Park have traditional Southern interiors and are furnished with antique or reproduction sofas, chairs and tables.

The state restoration project was initially expected to take six months, but took longer and cost more mainly because extra work involving an adjacent walkway was added to the job, said the MDOT’s architect on the project, Jim Vinson.

Contractor Paul Jackson & Son of Brookhaven did the work and was paid about $490,000, said Jeff Curtis of the Vicksburg MDOT office, $40,000 more than the original cost estimate.

The center opened in 1980 at a cost of about $2 million. In 2003 it logged about 150,000 visitors. The state now has 14 welcome centers.

Vicksburg center supervisor Elmerree Bradley, who has worked there for 22 years, said it was not uncommon for the center to be visited by German tourists because more visitors come to Vicksburg from there than from any other foreign country.

“We always get busloads of people from Germany,” she said.

The tour was to the southern United States for two weeks and was focusing on agricultural areas from Georgia to Texas, Mueller said. Its next stop was a cotton plantation and the group also planned to stop in Natchez before moving on to Louisiana, Mueller added.

The manager of public relations and special events for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Samantha Hosemann, said she had visited the center since it had been reopened.

“It looks great,” she said. “It’s really up-to-date and elegant. It was worth the wait and the construction.”