Deal for depot sweeter with stimulus money

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 24, 2009

Vicksburg’s deal to renovate the historic Levee Street Depot into a transportation museum and office spaces with grant funds got a little sweeter on Wednesday.

The Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen OK’d a modification with the Mississippi Transportation Commission to alter grant funding for the renovation and establishment of the museum. The new pact will provide $250,000 more to the city for the project and eliminate a local match requirement, said City Attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr.

The city originally secured a $1.65 million grant in 2007 through MDOT that would have required about $410,000 in local funds and architect fees. The new deal will provide $1.9 million and will require no local match, as the funds are coming via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly referred to as stimulus funds.

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“In discussing this with MDOT, they have diverted those funds somewhere else and are basically changing the funding,” said Thames. “They didn’t say why, but it’s a better deal for us.”

About $100,000 of the matching funds in the original deal were to come from city coffers. The building, which the city purchased in 2002 for approximately $295,000, was to count as an in-kind match. Another $150,000 was to come from a contribution from the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is planning to move its offices to the depot building along with the Vicksburg Main Street Program.

The board approved the alteration without comment. Mayor Paul Winfield said following the meeting the original contribution and lease plan for the VCVB and Main Street Program will not be altered due to the new deal. Nor will the renovation plan, which calls for the museum to occupy the ground floor, with office spaces and a library on the second floor and the third floor used for storage.

The plan called for the VCVB and Main Street to enter into a 20-year lease with the city, and pay about $500 a month for rent and utilities. The city has been meeting planning deadlines, and is on track to begin renovations in the new year. Once started, the project is expected to take 18 months to complete.

The board on Monday also OK’d a grant extension, through Dec. 31, 2010, with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for a separate $53,900 grant awarded to the museum for exterior renovations of the depot building.

About 1,500 books, a dozen model trains with 150 model rail cars and other exhibits have been donated to the museum, said museum executive director Lamar  Roberts, who also owns and operates the Battlefield Museum. Some of the model steamships currently in his battlefield museum on North Frontage Road will be moved to the new museum, he had said, and aviation displays are being designed. The Battlefield Museum will remain open as is until the transportation museum opens, at which point Roberts has said the Battlefield museum primarily will feature military displays. He estimates the transportation museum will draw about 50,000 visitors annually.

Contact Steve Sanoski at