‘I’ll be glad to sell if they pay me enough’|[7/2/06]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 2, 2006

In the city’s proposed urban renewal zone, a few residents are getting a head start on the fix-ups.

On Oak Street, new owners Kevin Beck and Vicksburg native Stacy Douglas began work last week behind the boarded-up windows of the stately Captain Kane house in the street’s 2500 block. Douglas said he bought the historic property, most recently divided into several apartments, because he grew up loving the house. When he saw the badly fading home for sale not long after he was forced from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, he decided to buy it because, he said, &#8220it was worth saving.”

That decision wasn’t influenced by the urban renewal plan expected to begin with the passage of a multimillion-dollar bond issue at the start of the next budget year in October – though Douglas said he had heard some about the project, and the prospect of removing blight in the area &#8220didn’t hurt.”

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&#8220It sounds like a good thing. It sounds like they’re not going to be tearing anything down,” he said, noting his distaste for the urban renewal plan in the 1970s that brought down many historic buildings but didn’t put much in their place. &#8220There needs to be more activity in this part of town as far as historic preservation, so more people will get involved.”

Next door to the Kane house’s new tenants, Patrick Moore said he had talked to Mayor Laurence Leyens about the project and was hopeful for the prospects of higher property values and ending such nuisances as vandalism and kids loitering and making noise in the street at night.

&#8220If he does what he says, the neighborhood should look a lot better, and property values should go up,” said Moore, who owns two houses on the block, one where he, his wife and son live, and one for rental. Both, along with the homes of other neighbors on the street’s west side, have outstanding views on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

It’s those postcard vistas, and the mayor’s stated goal of enhancing them to entice developers, that have some residents wondering if some of those properties might wind up in city hands. Officials have said repeatedly property acquisition is expected to be only a very small, or even nonexistent, part of the renewal plan – though some property owners indicated they wouldn’t mind entertaining offers.

&#8220I’ll be glad to sell them mine if they pay me enough for it,” said Dorothy Thorne, 85, who has operated a beauty shop from part of her home in Oak Street’s 3500 block for 55 years. &#8220But I wouldn’t sell if it wasn’t enough for me to move.”

Thorne, like most residents, said she thought her property was kept up to acceptable standards but pointed to several others nearby that could use a push painting, mowing, doing repairs or being demolished outright.

For example, two doors down from Thorne’s home – itself largely obscured by trees and shrubs in the front yard – is a leaning, abandoned house with a large hole in one wall and debris piled up in its driveway.

On Pearl Street, 65-year-old Wilbert Kenney said he looked for city crews to cut down weeds and kudzu on vacant lots on each side of his three-year-old house and demolish empty shotgun houses just across the railroad tracks.

&#8220Those people are gone. Tear them down or build them back up,” sad Kenney, who lives with his wife, grandson and great-grandson between one overgrown lot and a fenced-in basketball court and playground. &#8220They’re supposed to have done torn them down.”

Business owners too indicated they were fine with area fix-ups – to a degree.

&#8220As long as they don’t bother me, I’m OK,” said Phil Tremaine, owner of Top Dollar Pawn and Gun at Washington and Lee streets for the past 20 years.

Tremaine was entangled in a zoning dispute several years ago regarding the infamous gorillas in front of his shop, which he was allowed to keep because the plaster primates predated the ordinances banning them and were grandfathered in. Tremaine said he doesn’t expect an upcoming paint job – two gorillas will remain hot pink and black, and a third, currently gray, will be painted lime green, he said – to draw the attention of the city’s aesthetics police.

&#8220I’ve had my battles, and I’ve mellowed,” he said. &#8220But they’re going to stay pink and black and the little one’s going to be lime green.”

Nick Whitney, manager of The Corners, a bed and breakfast at Klein and Oak streets, said he expects improved aesthetics in the area would build pride in residents and tourist numbers on a block dominated by B&Bs.

&#8220It gives people a peace of mind to know they’re in a nicer neighborhood,” said Whitney, grandson of the Corners’ owner, Betty Whitney. &#8220I agree 100 percent with the plan. Any improvements you make down here are going to increase the tourism aspect of Vicksburg and bring more people into the neighborhood.”