Duff Green owner offers building rent-free to VCVB|[02/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 23, 2007

Duff Green Mansion owner Harry Sharp told the board of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau Thursday that its staff may stay rent-free at its temporary location at 1300 Washington St., a building he has rented to them since June. He added that the agreement would be for a specific period of time and pending his nomination to join the board.

Sharp was the lead choice of District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders and a majority on the Warren County Board of Supervisors to fill a vacancy on the 11-member tourism board. He was nominated in November and a vote is pending.

His proposal, to which the board agreed in its combined January and February board meeting to consider, comes more than a month after an opinion from the state Ethics Commission said Sharp, previously on the tourism-development agency’s board, could return so long as he wasn’t the agency’s paid landlord.

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Sharp has rented the building, which has been used by the VCVB while the safety of its building across the street has been in question, at an 85 percent discount from the market value, he said. The board has been told by officials that they may re-enter the building at their &#8220own risk” since the Thomas Furniture building, in the same block with VCVB offices, collapsed more than a year ago.

Sharp suggested that the VCVB remain in his building rent-free for no more than 120 days, which would mean the board would have to find another temporary location after those four months are up.

&#8220My only hesitation is that we spent a fair amount of money to get that building wired,” said board member Bobby Bailess, who will step down once Flanders makes his appointment. Bailess’ seat on the board became vacant June 30 when he declined another term. If appointed, Sharp would fill his seat. Bailess becomes president of the Mississippi Bar Association in July.

The board agreed being back in its 1221 Washington St. location in four months would not be feasible. The stabilization and safety of the building puts employees at risk, Bailess said.

&#8220We need to be looking to another venue,” he said. &#8220The question is, ‘Do we have enough time?’”

Sharp said he cannot continue losing money on the property.

&#8220I have a mortgage, insurance – not to mention upkeep. And the rent I’m receiving does not cover that,” he said. &#8220I don’t want to be any kind of burden to the VCVB. I want to do everything I can to help, but I want to be treated fairly.”

Members said after they determine whether they can find another temporary location within Sharp’s proposed time frame, they will make a decision.

Flanders, who was present for the meeting, said he would delay his appointment in order for the board to have time to discuss Sharp’s proposal.

&#8220I would appreciate the dialogue between these two groups,” he said.

In her report to the board, Colleen May, senior sales and marketing executive for the bureau, showed example art for rack cards that advertise extended stays in Vicksburg. She also showed samples from the Visitors Guide, which the VCVB plans to distribute before Spring Pilgrimage, slated to begin March 15. The cover will display art by local artist Jean Blue and inside pages will have photographs by Marty Kittrell.

&#8220We’re trying to make our Visitors Guide have a new look,” May said.

The publication, which includes information on local lodging, restaurants, historic sites and tourist destinations, will include a map of Vicksburg at its center, she said.

In executive session, the board voted to move a full-time employee to parttime. The next meeting of the VCVB board will be at 5 p.m. March 22 at the Vicksburg Convention Center.