Leyens wants tourism groups to be in one spot

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2008

Vicksburg officials hope to convince three boards that work to bring tourists and businesses to Vicksburg to share an available downtown office, Mayor Laurence Leyens said Thursday.

Early-stage discussions continue among Vicksburg Main Street, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce to possibly bring the three organizations together in one building on Washington Street.

“It’s a long shot, and right now we’re just sort of having a dialogue about the possibility,” said Leyens. “The problem is we have three boards with overlapping missions, but they’re not really interacting. We want to get them all in one building so they can work together, and people who come to Vicksburg for any reason can get all the information they need in one place.”

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Under consideration is a building at 1401 Washington, listed for sale since its most recent commercial tenant, Serenity Floral, closed earlier this year. Saliba H. Dabit of Jackson is listed as the building’s owner. Leyens said the city could buy the building and offer leases to the three organizations, and added there are also two neighboring buildings that could be purchased should more space be needed.

“We’re willing to buy the building, and try to split the rehab costs,” said Leyens. “If the city owns the building then we could provide the maintenance, but I’m willing to work with the three boards to come up with an agreement that makes sense to them all.”

Chamber of Commerce officials who favor the proposal stress the need for economy of space and resources.

“It’s about dollars and cents,” executive director Christi Kilroy said. “Instead of having two buildings with two boardrooms and two copiers, we’d be able to share resources.”

Chamber offices on Mission 66 sit on land owned by the city that was obtained from the National Park Service. Federal rules required it to be occupied by a nonprofit organization. In the past 14 months, the chamber lost the Warren County Port Commission and the Economic Development Foundation as tenants over space concerns, a move that cut the port authority’s operating expenses but left the chamber without $26,700 in annual office rent.

“Building (a separate structure) anywhere doesn’t make any sense,” said chamber executive Brother Blackburn.

VCVB Executive Director Bill Seratt said he has heard of Leyens’ proposal, but did not wish to comment. Seratt said the board will be presented with a formal proposal from the city at its meeting on Thursday. “It’s really going to have to be a decision made by the board,” said Seratt.

The VCVB sold its former downtown headquarters at 1221 Washington St. in April. The bureau has been holding its board meetings and housing its executive offices inside a modular structure behind its visitor center at 3300 Clay St. since spring 2006, following the January 2006 collapse of the former Thomas Furniture building that compromised the stability of the adjoining buildings — which also housed Vicksburg Main Street.

The VCVB has permission from the city to use the modular structure for its executive business until June 1, 2009. Vicksburg Main Street, which has a two-person staff, has been operating from the City Hall Annex since the collapse. Main Street operators were not available.

Leyens said a private company, Visitourtown.com, has also expressed interest in occupying office space in the Washington Street building should the city work out a deal among the three other organizations.