Depot plans see 2nd delay, by city audits

Published 12:20 pm Friday, October 1, 2010

Long-awaited renovations on the 103-year-old Levee Street Depot, which city officials had said would begin by the start of September, have been delayed again — this time due to the city’s unfinished audits for 2008 and 2009.

Because the audits are not complete, the Mississippi Department of Transportation has said they cannot release the $1.9 million in federal stimulus funds the project has been awarded.

On Thursday, Mayor Paul Winfield said the city is straightening out the situation, and will fund the renovation from the city’s general fund until the audits are complete and the stimulus funds can be released. The mayor said he now hopes the project — which will see a transportation museum built on the ground floor and office spaces created on the second floor for the Vicksburg Main Street Program and Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau — will be under way by the end of this month.

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Audits for fiscal years 2006-08 were not complete when Winfield took office in July 2009. Since then, the 2006 and 2007 audits have been completed. Winfield said he hopes the 2008 and 2009 audits will be complete within the next year. The depot renovations are expected to take about a year to complete.

A notice to proceed on the renovation was issued to contractor Kenneth R. Thompson Jr. Builder Inc. on Sept. 10 by the mayor and aldermen. However, that notice was rescinded 10 days later after MDOT informed the city it could not release the stimulus funds. The Greenwood company was awarded its bid of $1,535,000 for the renovations in late July.

City Attorney Lee Davis Thames Jr. said he’s anticipating getting clearance from MDOT’s legal council to re-issue the letter to proceed sometime next week.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he’s tired of the start-stop progress on the depot project, which is now more than five years in the making. The city purchased the 14,000-square-foot, three-story depot in 2002 for about $295,000.

“All I’ve done since day one is push a piece of paper over here, and then pull it back over here, and I’m tired of it,” Mayfield told Winfield and Thames. “When you get this through, you’ll be my hero.”

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman was absent from the meeting on personal business.

Plans to renovate the depot were first nailed down under former Mayor Laurence Leyens, but were shifted after Winfield took office. In December 2009, the funding source for the project was changed, whereby a $1.9 million federal stimulus allocation administered by MDOT replaced a $1.65 million grant by MDOT awarded in 2007. The shift saved the city money, as the MDOT grant would have required about $410,000 match in local funds and architect fees. The stimulus allocation requires no local match.

Less than a block away from the depot, the dry-docked MV Mississippi IV is to be transformed into a $16 million interpretive center and museum by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its progress was stopped by a disrupted water main in March, but work has since restarted and the museum is expected to open in the fall of 2011.

On the agenda

Meeting Thursday, in the absence of South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen:

• OK’d five fiscal year-end budget amendments.

• OK’d renewing a one-year contract with Warren-Yazoo Mental Health to provide five mental health sessions for each city employee and their immediate family members at no cost to the patient and a $75 charge to the city, per session.

• OK’d a one-year contract with Physio Control for maintenance of 14 pieces of cardiac equipment for the fire department’s EMS operations, at $20,322 for the year.

• OK’d a two-year contract with Cellular South for various cell phone equipment and services.

• Conveyed properties at 2500 and 2609 Roosevelt Ave. to Warren County Habitat for Humanity, on which the nonprofit organization plans to build affordable housing.

• OK’d an agreement with DiamondJacks Casino to allow the Washington Street casino to use the adjacent Riverfront Park for valet parking during a New Year’s Eve event. The agreement states neither the city nor the county, which jointly own the park, will be held responsible for any incidents occurring at the park during the event. The casino has permission to use the park from 5 p.m. Dec. 31 to 5 a.m. Jan. 1.

• OK’d payment of $36,178.47 to Vicksburg-Warren 911 for the city’s 60 percent share of dispatchers’ salaries, matching benefits and insurance for September.

• OK’d payment of $6,439.17 to the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport at Mound, La.

In closed session, the board:

• Discussed two potential litigation matters

The board is scheduled to meet next at 10 a.m. Monday in room 109 of the City Hall Annex, 1415 Walnut St.