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VCVB opposes top site for jail

A site being considered for a new county jail has met with opposition.

A year and a half after starting the discussion about building a new Warren County Jail, the board of supervisors took its most concrete step yet Monday when the supervisors unanimous approved hiring Greg Thomas to assess the value of a 50-acre tract located off Berryman Road near Dusty Road

The site on Berryman Road is one of two finalists presented to the board by Stantec’s Brian Robbins and John McKee during a work session Sept. 25.

The decision by the board quickly met opposition, though, as representatives of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau sent the board a letter dated Oct. 5 voicing their opinion that the Berryman Road site is not the right one for a county jail.

The letter was jointly signed by VCVB executive director Bill Seratt and VCVB board chairman Bess Averett.

“As the executive director and the board of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, we are writing to express concern over the potential site of the Warren County Jail at Berryman Road/Highway 27. This area is currently one of our highest traffic areas for visitors overnighting at our hotels, eating in restaurants and shopping,” the letter read.

Berryman Road is located off of Old U.S. Highway 80 and runs behind the Outlets at Vicksburg. According to information provided by the VCVB, at least 15.5 percent of hospitality revenue collected in the city comes from the area around the outlet mall. Also located in the area are 12 percent of the city’s restaurants including Billy’s Italian and McAllister Deli.

“Our concern is that site is in a major commercial retail area that is a traffic area for our visitors,” said VCVB deputy director Laura Beth Strickland. “It’s also an area for potential growth and we believe that the jail would block that growth. We want our visitors to have the best experience while in Vicksburg and that includes their first impression when they check into their hotel room.”

Board president Richard George said he had received the letter and is willing to provide any information requested by the VCVB.

“That is early on and quite honestly all we’re doing right now is seeking an appraisal of a piece of property,” George said. “That is where we’re at and there’s plenty of time for the process of clarification of access and who will be effected, who might not be or who they think might be.”

The site off Berryman Road was one of two finalist presented to the board by the representatives from Stantec. The other site is a 47-acre property located off U.S. 80 and near the site of the former Pinewoods Motor Court. George said the decision was made to initially pursue the Berryman site as it is nearer to the necessary utilities.

“We had two sites and we weren’t going to spend any more money than we had to,” George said. “This site is the closest to the city amenities that this facility will need. Sewer is a very, very important component part and we’re much, much closer to sewer facilities at a much less cost than we would be in other locations.”

George added that when building a site like a jail, being near a fire station is an important factor and the city of Vicksburg has recently constructed the new Vicksburg Fire Department Station No. 3 on Berryman Road.

Along with the letter sent to the board, representatives from the VCVB have requested the chance voice their concerns as part of the agenda during the board meeting scheduled for Oct. 23.

“Currently, this area is seeing growth. A Hilton property has committed to break ground on Berryman Road and the water park is slated to open behind the Outlets at Vicksburg,” the letter continued. “We are asking that you reconsider the Highway 8o property as the new jail site. Eliminating the growth for economic development in the Berryman Road/Highway 27 area will cost Warren County way more than the investment in a property that isn’t one of our highest traffic areas for visitors.”

George said as the process moves forward, the concerns of the VCVB will be taken into account and the board will work with the VCVB to make sure its concerns are heard.

“Certainly we will consider their input,” George said. “There is no question about that. We will listen to their concerns when they choose to appear and ask for some information. They haven’t as yet.”