Vicksburg home to one of nation’s top main streets

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

Vicksburg is home to what is now officially one of America’s top 10 Main Streets.

The National Main Street Association has named Vicksburg Main Street a semifinalist for the Great American Main Street Award.

“This is something that I’ve been wanting for a long time. I knew Vicksburg had what it took lately as a Main Street, especially the last several years,” Vicksburg Main Street director Kim Hopkins said. “I was overjoyed. As a community we all worked so hard.”

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The National Main Street Association chose Vicksburg because the downtown vacancy rate has reduced from 65 percent to 5 percent, public and private investments have been made totaling $150 million and 3,100 new jobs have been created since the organization began its work 31 years ago.

“It didn’t just happen in a year. It’s a work in progress, and it’s over many years,” Hopkins said giving credit to previous directors.

This was Vicksburg’s first year to apply for the honor, and some were surprised to be successful on their first try. During the application process they were told it sometimes takes three or four years to receive the recognition.

“A lot of times, on the first time, they say that you really do not win, so we’re very lucky,” Hopkins said.

Others, however, were confident in Vicksburg, Hopkins and former board member Kristen Meehan’s dedication to filling out the application.

“Knowing how well they worked together and what kind of job we’ve done, I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised. I’m grateful and very happy, but I’m not terribly surprised,” Vicksburg Main Street board chairman Skipper Guizerix said.

Hopkins and Meehan worked together to answer six essay questions on how people in downtown Vicksburg live, work and play as well as why Vicksburg’s downtown is a great place to visit. Then the Main Street organization had to explain how they have shown a dedication to historic preservation and how they have impacted the community.

“It’s easy to write about the places you really love and care about,” Meehan said.

“It was really interesting to pull our history and our information back from when we first started,” Hopkins said. “We took a lot of information in a short time and pulled it all together.”

Meehan helped write the essays and Hopkins gathered the numbers on how many churches, restaurants, shops, attractions and other services are offered in the city, among other statistics.

The application process was exhaustive, Guizerix said. He gives all the credit to Meehan and Hopkins, Meehan recently moved to Virginia to pursue a master’s degree in business administration, but her heart is still with Vicksburg.

“This is kind of her gift to us. She worked closely with Kim going over all the questions, how they should be submitted and the angle,” Guizerix said.

He said the Mississippi Main Street state organization is able to support one local Main Street for the award each year, and this year they were backing Tupelo. Guizerix is extra proud of Vicksburg being named a semifinalist because they earned the distinction on their own.

“It just makes me doubly proud that we’re right there despite having no help for the state organization,” Guizerix said.

Being named a semifinalist gives Vicksburg invaluable national recognition.

“It’s huge for economic development and tourism,” Meehan said.

Meehan likened the honor to a pageant saying being named a semifinalist is like bring named Miss Mississippi, and they will find out if they won Miss America at the national convention.

“For a year, you’re the best of what main streets have to offer,” Meehan said.

The nine other semifinalist cities are Tupelo, Miss.; Dahlonega, Ga.; Grapevine, Texas; Audubon Park (Orlando), Fla.; Los Alamos, N.M.; Bastrop, Texas; Shaw District, Washington D.C.; Covington, Ky. and Howell, Mich. The three winners will be chosen from the semifinalist and announced in May at the National Main Streets Conference in Milwaukee.

“I think Vicksburg is extremely deserving of the honor. Even if we don’t win the main award, which is the GAMSA, I think it’s a great for our people to see how wonderful Vicksburg is and how much it’s grown in such a short period of time,” Meehan said.