Aldermen agree to release VCVB from lease with city

Published 11:14 am Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau has the city’s permission to leave the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Depot.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday authorized Mayor George Flaggs Jr. to cancel the VCVB’s 20-year lease at the depot.

The city will reimburse the unused portion of the $150,000 total rent the visitors bureau paid up front when the lease was signed in 2012; a total of $116,250, which the city is expected to reimburse the bureau in installments of $2,500 a month for 46.5 months, although South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson suggested the city pay off the balance in a single payment.

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“If we’ve got an opportunity to cancel a debt, I’m all for it. I think we need to do that,” he said.

Flaggs said he would examine the budget to see if money is available to pay off the debt.

VCVB executive director Bill Seratt, who was not at the meeting, said Monday negotiations were underway with the owners of the former Crosstek building at 1619 Walnut St., but no lease has been signed. He said the VCVB Board of Directors is expected to vote on the move when it meets Thursday at the City Hall Annex.

The VCVB’s request was presented to the board at its June 10 meeting but was tabled until the board received more information from the visitor’s bureau.

Seratt was unable to attend the June 10 meeting, but outlined the bureau’s reasons for leaving in a letter to City Attorney Nancy Thomas:

• The Old Depot Museum wants to expand its collections and occupy the building. “We feel that the expansion will increase visitation to the museum,” Seratt wrote.

• Problems with the building’s elevator. The elevator has been a problem since the depot was renovated and reopened after the 2011 spring Mississippi River flood, which put several feet of water into the building. The State of Mississippi has condemned the elevator and it has been shut down.

The lack of an elevator has made it hard to hold meetings in the building and for people to the VCVB offices, Seratt wrote.

• Flooding. “Evacuating the building during times of high water is totally disruptive to our programs of work,” he wrote. “We have been out of the building since Dec. 30, 2015.” VCVB has been temporary offices in the City Hall Annex since leaving the depot.

VCVB and Vicksburg Main Street both signed 20-year leases in 2012, with the VCVB occupying the building’s second floor and Main Street the third.

Under the terms of its lease, the VCVB was to pay about $625 a month for 20 years, but paid the full amount of the lease, $150,000, to help provide the city’s match for a $1.65 million Mississippi Department of Transportation grant to renovate the building.

The depot was the third building the VCVB had occupied since 2005.

The visitors bureau occupied a building at the corner of Clay and Washington streets across from Trustmark Bank, but had to leave it in 2006 after the adjacent old Thomas Furniture Store at 713 Clay St. collapsed.

The buildings shared a common wall.

The VCVB later occupied a metal building at the visitor information center on Old Highway 27 before moving into the depot and later City Hall Annex in January.

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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