Riverfront Park upgrade is planned within months|[12/08/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

An upgrade to Riverfront Park could come by the time schools let out for summer if funding needs are met, a Vicksburg official said Thursday.

Marcia Weaver of the Planning Department and architect Brent Holmes of Brandon-based Architects South appeared before the Warren County Board of Supervisors Thursday to gauge supervisors’ willingness to fund some of the project.

&#8220It’s a heavily used park and we’re trying to make it better,” Weaver said.

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The 16-acre park on the Mississippi River below Louisiana Circle was created 15 years ago when land was purchased by the city, county and Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Weaver said a construction bid could be accepted in February with work to begin in March on a $300,000 renovation using a $150,000 federal grant through the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and matched equally by the city and county. Support has also come from Area 10 Special Olympics and Audubon Mississippi.

Early plans call for $70,000 in new play equipment, 10 new benches, a pavilion of some type providing extra shelter and upgrading the restrooms to make them fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Supervisors agreed funding a restroom upgrade was feasible, with the cost of that alone to run about $15,000. Funds toward that effort will come from some combination of funds out of the $220,000 the county has budgeted in 2006-07 for park maintenance, County Administrator John Smith said.

The park, which includes about 6 acres donated in a long-term lease by Vicksburg Printing and Publishing Company, now includes play equipment, picnic areas and a walking/jogging path.

In other business, supervisors heard from Jim Pilgrim, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission, on the funding status of a new bridge crane at the Port of Vicksburg.

Verbal notice has been received from Delta Regional Authority on a $200,000 grant that the commission was hoping would add to the $678,000 in grants already in hand from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Written approval of the grant award is expected to arrive soon, Pilgrim said.

The money is part of a collection of funds geared to spend the $2 million necessary to replace the port’s current 15-ton bridge crane, one that handles routine movement of goods to and from barges, rail cars and trucks.

The port’s other crane is housed in the port’s public terminal and handles larger cargo.

Pilgrim also briefed the board on the commission’s other active efforts on pressing matters, chiefly the Yazoo Diversion Canal widening project and keeping alive a project to build a connector road between the Port of Vicksburg and U.S. 61 North.

Funding for the widening project has been secured through appropriations from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, $1.5 million from Vicksburg via the Mississippi Development Authority and the federal Community Development Block Grant program. Warren County has supplied $164,168 through the port board.

Attempts to secure more Corps funding have fallen flat, including those to divert money from projects in other Corps districts.

It still leaves the project just more than $522,000 short of full local funding. Pilgrim said the commission &#8220is still pushing” the state’s delegation in both houses of Congress, but added chances of getting more federal money before a Jan. 20 construction bid deadline are unlikely.

Concurring with District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, Pilgrim agreed &#8220the best suggestion” is to ask the construction bid be reconsidered to allow for economic changes that have occurred since it was first bid.

A $4.7 million bid for the work has been extended to Jan. 20 by 4H Construction of Cleveland, Miss. Originally, the offer was to expire in October until the Warren County Port Commission lobbied the firm to prolong it. All four bids came in nearly $1 million more than federal government estimates.

As for the connector road, the estimated cost of building it is $17 million, Pilgrim said, with a state-county match likely to make it happen. Businesses operating at the port have estimated an increase in annual truck traffic after the road is complete totaling about 165,000 vehicles, Pilgrim said.