Arts center, luxury hotel on idea board|[11/17/05]
Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 17, 2005
A performing arts center and luxury hotel may be in Vicksburg’s future, said Jack Kyle, executive director of the former Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange.
The hotel would be in the U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse on Crawford Street and a location for the performing arts center is yet to be decided. Kyle said plans might take several years to come to fruition.
The idea began about six years ago when Kyle, being honored today by the Republic of Germany for his international service to the arts, purchased a building on Washington Street, which he operated as Washington Street Fine Arts Gallery.
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The gallery was closed while Kyle was putting together exhibitions in Jackson, most recently “Glory of Baroque Dresden” in 2004. But Kyle kept his connections in Vicksburg and returned to live here in June.
“While I was living in Jackson, it was convenient to drive to Vicksburg – it’s only a 30- to 35-minute drive,” he said. “I met some nice people and developed some nice friendships and realized what treasures the city has.”
One of those friendships was with Shirley Waring, a local real estate broker and developer. Waring had her own ideas of bringing culture and tourism to Vicksburg. Her vision is to turn the office building on Crawford into a luxury hotel. The building is now privately owned with limited U.S. Post Office operations on the main floor and intermittent use of the courtroom. Corps of Engineers and other federal workers moved out several years ago.
“We feel like it will be a charming addition to the lobby,” Waring said.
The masonry building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned by Ben Duckworth, president of the Courthouse Partners LLC, which bought it in the summer of 2004. Duckworth is an office in the Duckworth Realty Company that owns LeFleur’s Gallery, a retail and officer center in Jackson off Interstate 55.
The City of Vicksburg was offered the Crawford Street building for free, but turned down the deal in 2003 because officials said the cost of maintenance would be too much for taxpayers.
The five-story building has 71,864 square feet of space.
While the hotel and performing arts projects remain separate, Waring said they will go hand-in-hand with bringing tourism and economic impact into the city.
Both Kyle and Waring are relying on the history and culture that already exist in Vicksburg, such as the Vicksburg National Military Park, the Old Court House Museum and the Mississippi River.
“The economic development, the quality of life and educational aspect is so dynamic for Vicksburg,” Waring said. “Vicksburg is ready to pull together the different aspects – the river, the park, entertainment, architecture and history. It deserves to be and to have something of this quality.”
Kyle envisions a performing arts facility that could further capitalize on Vicksburg’s attractions and location.
“It all makes for fundamental ingredients to move Vicksburg to another level in terms of attracting people here,” Kyle said.
A performing arts center could bring world-class entertainment to the city. Kyle, who has a degree in music and has spent the last 20 years making a living in the visual arts, said the proposed $20 million 2,000-seat facility could bring more than 300,000 visitors annually to the River City if 150 events are held each year.
“To develop a project like this will provide a tremendously positive boost to the solid infrastructure that already exists here,” Kyle said.
He believes the center will attract such events as an international music festival; two-week presentations on bluegrass, blues, jazz and gospel; Civil War round tables; and ballets.
Kyle has spoken to architects as well as local government officials and people in the private sector, all of whom, he said, are eager to talk further about its potential.
The proposed facility, which he believes will act as a private nonprofit organization, will be paid for by governmental and private and public sector entities. When raising funds for the $20 million facility, an additional $10 million endowment will be established for maintenance, upkeep and operation, Kyle said.
Waring did not say when work will begin on the proposed luxury hotel, but things are moving forward.
“I put together a group from New Orleans and the storm disrupted us, but it’s moving forward,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity with Jack loving Vicksburg – he is immensely talented and qualified to bring this to the community and I’m thrilled with that,” Waring said.
Kyle hopes the community will embrace the center and see its role in moving Vicksburg and the state forward.
“I have a passion for Vicksburg and its potential,” Kyle said. “I hope the citizens of Vicksburg see this as a project that can benefit the quality of life here and also make an economic impact and act as a catalyst for further tourism growth.”
Today’s honor being given to Jack Kyle at Belhaven College in Jackson is the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
His previous honors include: