Visitors bureau sale of building profits $100,000|[04/30/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau was paid $100,000 more for its downtown building, the tourism agency’s former headquarters, than it paid nearly seven years ago.

Revenue from the sale will go back into facilities – remodeling and finding a new home for the tourism development agency.

The former VCVB building at 1221 Washington St.The building at 1221 Washington St., formerly First Federal Savings & Loan, and later Unifirst, was sold at the beginning of the month for $380,000, up from the $280,000 purchase price in 2001. The building was bought from Trustmark National Bank and six years of payments were made at $24,000 a year.

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VCVB Director Bill Seratt said some of the $166,367.79 left after the remaining mortgage was paid off will go to fund “major” renovations and remodeling of the agency’s tourist information center on Clay Street across from the main entrance to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The board also will use some of the money to move executive offices from a temporary modular structure at the site of the tourist information center.

“It will all be spent back into buildings and operations,” Seratt said.

The board was issued a one-year exception with a one-year extension option from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals to allow its operations to be moved to a Katrina cottage, donated by Cappaert Manufactured Housing. But no decision on where executive offices will be moved has been made, Seratt said. They have until June 1, 2009, to make that decision.

The move from downtown came on the heels of several location changes that were a result of the January 2006 collapse of two adjacent buildings that left the board questioning the safety of the building and, therefore, declining to place staff there.

The vacant building caught the eye of Florida developer and investor Randy Ashcraft, who made an offer in June to purchase the building. The board didn’t accept the initial offer, but when Ashcraft returned with the higher offer, they decided to sell, a decision that was not made public or discussed in any VCVB meetings.

“The decision was made in closed session because it concerned a legal matter,” Seratt said. “We never listed the building (for sale).”

Ashcraft plans to convert the space into upper level personal condos and lower level retail. He said Tuesday afternoon that he has not yet decided what will occupy the space, but mentioned he is talking to several “big chains.” He also said his friend, Grammy-winning Christian pianist Dino Kartsonakis, is interested in opening a bakery for his cake company, Dino’s 24 Karrot Cake Co., in the space.

So far, crews from Pensacola have been inside the downtown building tearing out carpet, staining wood and adding a bathroom and kitchen upstairs. He plans to put in marble and hardwood floors, as well as copper ceilings and new windows. He also purchased the adjacent parking lot, which is currently being used for public parking. “We plan to put a little over $200,000 to $250,000 into it,” he said. “We’re really going to deck it out,” he said. “It’s going to be an awesome-looking place.”

Ashcraft, who said his interest in Vicksburg was sparked by a love of history by his wife, Lisa, said he is interested in purchasing other downtown properties, but didn’t identify which ones. Before purchasing the former VCVB building, the developer brought his helicopter tour business here for a trial run. Although the tours are no longer offered, he has said he’d like to bring them back.

After moving from downtown, the VCVB maintained a presence there through tourism counselors in individual businesses. The agency, funded by a 1 percent tourism tax collected at restaurants, bars and hotels, also indicated it wants its executive offices in the downtown area.