North Ward improvements include tearing down hospital

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield have unveiled an ambitious plan to upgrade the city’s North Ward that includes a police precinct, improved recreation facilities and the development of the Kuhn Memorial Hospital property once the buildings are removed.

Flaggs and Mayfield presented a list of improvements at the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s work session Monday.

Some of the proposals were the result of a June town hall meeting Flaggs had with North Ward residents at the Kings Empowerment Center, in which many residents claimed the area was a stepchild of the city. Other proposals, Mayfield said, came from discussions about the area from residents.

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“There were things in the community that we’ve been looking at for some time,” Mayfield said. “Most of it is making sure most of the area is clean, as far as the old abandoned properties, they wanted to have some upgrades at Sherman Avenue Park, and as a whole just making sure that community is not being overlooked and we have things on the table that are going to taken care as far as the community asked for.”

That includes, he said, adequate police protection, including a precinct in the area, removing abandoned vehicles, cracking down on speeding and overweight trucks in the area, “just general things the community has asked for that’s not different that what other communities have asked for.”

The proposed changes include:

• Establishing a playground in the North Ward area, possibly on city land near the Fire Station No. 9 in the Waltersville area, and completing renovations to Sherman Avenue Park, including lighting, equipment and resurfacing the parking lot.

There are also plans to use city-owned land in Ford Subdivision for recreation areas.

The city has $100,000 in its $9.2 million capital improvements budget for recreation in the North Ward.

• Improving landscaping in the area and upgrading and replacing streetlights. Mayfield said he will meet with an Entergy representative to tour the ward and look at lighting problems.

• Remove debris and abandoned homes and vehicles form the community. Mayfield said he is working with property owners to get vacant homes, some of those abandoned after the 2011 spring Mississippi River flood, to get the homes razed either by the owners or the city. Some of the homes in the area, he said, can be repaired.

The city also plans changes in the Martin Luther King Boulevard community, which includes Kuhn.

The street is included in the first phase of the North Ward paving project, which will pave Martin Luther King from Jackson Street to the city limits. Plans are also underway to improve street lighting.

City officials want to raze Kuhn Memorial Hospital and redevelop the property to include tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas including a pavilion, and a 40- to 42-home development of single-family homes.

The hospital, which was closed by the state in 1989, and been a major issue for the city, which on July 6 put the 12.5-acre property under the slum clearance ordinance in a move to step up its efforts to remove the complex’s main building in the aftermath of the abduction and murder of Sharen Wilson, whose body was found on the property June 28.

Police said Wilson was killed in the hospital building and her body was left on the property, where ghost hunters who were on the property found it.

When the parties with an interest in the property failed to present plans to either raze or renovate the two buildings on the site in September, it clear the way for their demolition.

“It’s been an eyesore since about 1990,” Mayfield said. “And on top of that, you had people using it for drug houses; vagrants going over there and doing drugs. I’ve been covering every area I can to eliminate that eyesore which has really tarnished that entire community.”

The city is seeking a waiver from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to borrow up to $600,000 low-interest brownfields CAP loan through a Mississippi Development Authority to raze and clear both buildings on the property. MDEQ presently has a $250,000 cap on brownfields loans.

Once the property is cleared, the city is considering buying it and developing it.

“The proposal is not to just tear down the Kuhn hospital and leave it flat, tear the Kuhn Hospital down and start some improvements so the people can feel as good about the North Ward as people do about the South Ward,” Flaggs said. “Everybody shouldn’t have to go to Bazinski to play ball or play tennis. We need cultural enrichment on the north side of Clay Street like we do the south side of Clay Street.”

“I want to see an up-to-date housing project there. It has to be individual houses,” Mayfield said, adding he believes the “pride factor” of someone having their own home would influence residents to keep the area up because they have a stake in the neighborhood.

“I want to see a recreation area with full court basketball court, a tennis court and a playground for the kids. I also want to put a pavilion there, and I want it to be close to the street and well-lit, where people feel comfortable. We want to make it something the citizens will be proud of, rather than just beat our chest and say, ‘We got the hospital down.’

“Taking the hospital down is not doing a whole lot of good, if you don’t do something that’s beautiful behind it.”






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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