Historic preservation a tool for Vicksburg development

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

Preserving and renovating Vicksburg’s historic buildings can play an important role in the city’s economic development, providing not only tourist attractions, but jobs for area residents, a Mississippi Department of Archives and History official said Wednesday.
“This (preservation) can be a tool for things to happen in Vicksburg,” said William Gatlin, the state agency’s architectural historian.
His comments came at a meeting with the city’s Board of Architectural Review and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to discuss historic preservation in the city and receive information on improving the city’s preservation efforts.
Over the past few months, the board has dealt with requests to demolish some of the city’s older buildings and efforts to renovate others.
Currently, the most ambitious project is the renovation of the Monte Carlo Building at Washington and Jackson streets by Linda and James Fondren, who plan to use the building as a restaurant and cultural center.
Historic preservation is part of Mayor George Flaggs Jr.’s plan to make Vicksburg a tourist destination by tying the city’s history and buildings to the Vicksburg National Military Park.
“It’s a total picture of Vicksburg,” Gatlin said. “The park is a national and international attraction, and then we have the historic buildings that are the local attraction. It all fits together.”
“Preserving buildings creates more jobs, dollar for dollar, than new construction,” Gatlin said. “Historic preservation is one of the highest economic development programs. It’s labor intensive, and the people who are going to work on these projects are plumbers, carpenters, electricians, your local craftsmen.”
Because preservation work tends to be done on a smaller scale than large construction projects like malls, he said, contractors are more apt to buy supplies from local stores.
“Historic preservation is counter-cyclical,” Gatlin said, “during tight economic times when other large construction projects are affected, preservation work is usually active because it is economically more feasible.”
He cited a 2002 Missouri Department of Natural Resources study on the economic impact of historic preservation in that state.
According to the study, $349 million was spent on historic preservation in Missouri, creating 8,060 jobs that generated $249 million in income for workers and $70 million in state taxes.
The study also indicated that visitors to the state spent $660 million in heritage tourism — tourism aimed at the cultural heritage of an area.
“When people come in to Vicksburg, you don’t want people to see this,” Gatlin said, showing a slide of exit signs on Interstate 20 westbound. “You want them to see this (showing a slide of downtown).”
Historic preservation, he said, “is important to every community. Buildings are artifacts. They tell us things about who we are as a people. These are important structures; they tell things about our past.
“Being in an old building like the old State Capitol in Jackson makes history real.”
Gatlin said the Architectural Review Board plays a major part in historic preservation by enforcing the city’s historic preservation ordinance.
“Historic preservation is important to a community,” he said. “So important that it’s public policy.”
He said judicial rulings ranging from local courts to the U.S. Supreme Court have backed decisions by historic preservation commissions and boards.
“As long as you follow your ordinance and do what your ordinance says, it should hold up in a court of law,” he said.

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About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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