Hosemann to city: Set an entertainment zone

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 22, 2010

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he’d like to see the City of Vicksburg establish an entertainment district to entice more entertainment venues downtown and take advantage of tax incentives available under legislation he drafted in 2009.

“We’re the only state in the union that will allow you to get accelerated depreciation on any facility that builds something that sells a ticket, like a theater,” Hosemann said as keynote speaker of the Vicksburg Main Street Program’s 26th annual meeting Thursday evening at Vicksburg Convention Center. “It’s an effort to bring public entertainment; family entertainment to cities.”

Meridian, Tupelo and Ocean Springs are applying to the state for the entertainment designation, which in turn has to be approved by local governing boards. The designation allows any developer constructing or renovating an entertainment venue to use the accounting method to save a substantial amount of money on taxes during the first five years of a venue’s life.

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Hosemann’s support of an entertainment district in Vicksburg was just one of many topics he touched on during his address to about 70 Vicksburg Main Street Program members and guests. A graduate of St. Aloysius High School, Hosemann focused heavily on public education during his address and urged Main Street members to get involved in local schools.

“We’ve got a real problem here,” said Hosemann in reference to recent test results that identified the Vicksburg Warren County School District as “at risk of failing.” “Eighty-five percent of kids go to public schools,” he said. “Mississippi is going to rise and fall on the merit of it’s public school system. Main Street needs to get involved with public education, because if you don’t, who’s going to work on main street? Who’s going to come shop on main street?”

Along with encouraging volunteerism in schools, Hosemann spoke out against pending legislation that would allow counties to spend accumulated principal fund balances from state lands leased to benefit schools, known as 16th Section lands. Through personally reviewing and approving all 7,000 16th Section land lease contracts in the state during fiscal year 2008, Hosemann said his office was able to increase lease collections to $77 million from $54 million the year previous.

In Warren County, the 16th Section lands principal fund is at $3.8 million. If spent, Hosemann said the fund would never be replenished.

“They want you to spend your $3.8 million. That’s bad financial planning… what it means is we’ll mortgage the education of our children,” he said. “Every year we have to fight something, and this is one of the ones we’ll be fighting this year.”

Elected secretary of state in November 2007, Hosemann was raised in Vicksburg and has an undergraduate degree in business from Notre Dame, a law degree from Ole Miss and a Masters of Laws in Taxation from New York University.

Main Street is a national program promoting downtown development and events. The local program was created in 1984 as one of the original six downtown development districts in Mississippi. Aside from city contributions, Vicksburg Main Street is primarily funded by a special downtown taxing district that collects an additional 5.05 mills in property tax on the roughly 150 businesses within the district.

Vicksburg Main Street Chairman Harry Sharp said the group had “a very good year” in 2009 despite a still-sluggish economy, some turmoil among downtown merchants and the closing of The Ware House bar, grill and hotel complex — a downtown spot that had been developed on Washington Street over the past four years.

Sharp said the Main Street district saw the opening of seven new businesses in 2009, while three closed. There was a net gain of 16 jobs downtown, with 36 created and 20 lost over the year. Additionally, 23 new luxury and corporate apartments were created via the redevelopment of The Valley and Super 10 buildings, bringing the total number of available apartments downtown to 125. 

Vicksburg Main Street works in conjunction with downtown business owners to coordinate events promoting downtown such as Hit The Bricks, Riverfest and the Fall Festival. In recent years, it has spearheaded efforts to establish a thriving farmers’ market. Directed by a volunteer board of directors and two paid administrators, Main Street also advertises downtown business and events regionally.

It is in the process of moving its executive offices out of City Hall Annex, where they have been temporarily located since the 2006 collapse of two Clay Street buildings near a former headquarters. In the coming weeks the offices will be moved to 1309 Washington St., where they will remain until renovations of the Levee Street Depot are complete. Main Street is set to move into the second floor of the depot, where offices for the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau are also planned. The ground floor of the 103-year-old building will be occupied by a transportation museum. A $1.9 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation is funding the renovation, which is expected to be put to bid by city officials in April or May.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com