Main Street supporters recount banner 2017, look forward to more progress

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Last year was a boom year in downtown Vicksburg and 2018 is shaping up to be even better.

During Vicksburg Main Street’s annual meeting Tuesday, executive director Kim Hopkins recapped the successes that were seen in downtown Vicksburg during 2017 and set the stage for the big things to come this year.

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In 2017, 18 new businesses opened in downtown Vicksburg including Roca, Southern Cottage-Green Market and Battlefield Bicycle Rental.

The total private investment in 2017 was more than $48 million, Hopkins said, and another $1.6 million of public money was invested in the area.

Vicksburg also saw 103 riverboats dock in Vicksburg bringing more than 26,000 visitors to town, Hopkins said. 

“Vicksburg Main Street sets the tone for economic development projects for the entire county,” Main Street chairman Christi Kilroy said. “I don’t think you can look anywhere else in Warren County and see the synergistic relationship between public and private investment.”

There is expected to be more growth in 2018 as work is currently ongoing on the Cottonwood Public House/Key City Brewery that is expected to open soon on Washington Street and the Margaritaville Resort at the old Portofino. The transformation of the Mississippi Hardware building into a technology transfer and innovation center is also expected to move forward in 2018.

“Over the years, we have invested a lot of money and gone a little slow to build this foundation,” Kilroy said. “Not now. I think we are at that part that we have invested in our foundation and we can build a strong network of businesses, residents and partners. It is all in place now and it is the time to go fast.”

The guest speaker at Tuesday’s meeting was Kane Ditto, the former Mayor of Jackson and owner of the development company StateStreet Group. 

During his talk, Ditto outlined multiple avenues he thought the Main Street program should explore going forward and highlighted two expansive projects he would like to see undertaken.

“I just feel like Vicksburg has all the potential in the world,” Ditto said.

“It is my favorite city in the state and one of my favorite cities in the country. I think Washington Street is incredibly special and it is the most important street in the city. Anything that can be done to enhance the appearance of Washington Street is about the most important thing we can do for the entire community.”

His suggestion to Main Street was to look into forming a Business Improvement District where businesses would pay an extra tax and that money would be invested back into the area.

“You could produce the kind of revenue that would allow for a very vigorous Main Street program,” Ditto said. “It also could provide funding along with city of county money for a very aggressive facade grant program. In Jackson for instance, the business improvement district brings in about $1 million a year.”

He said in Jackson, the district charges a 10 per square foot tax on the property and businesses space.

One of his suggestions was to use the money to fund a facade grant program to help restore buildings in downtown to their historical grandeur and also build matching buildings in empty lots.

“I think one thing that would help tremendously what you are doing in Vicksburg is a very definitive plan for Washington Street and it needs a strong implementation,” Ditto said.

“Implementation typically means money and it means leadership. If there were a strong facade grant program that would be a real aid to the city.”

Outside of the downtown district, Ditto recommended the city and county look into building a new visitor center at Vicksburg National Military Park as Gettysburg recently did and continuing the process of opening the Old Highway 80 Bridge to pedestrian traffic.

“One of the things I think would be fantastic is to have an iconic observation tower so you can see the whole battlefield and you could also see up and down the Mississippi River and as far as Jackson,” Ditto said of the visitor center. “People have wanted to get up high and see the battlefield. There is such an incredible story that can be told of what went on here during the siege and that to me is the best way to show it. It would be such an iconic structure that it would become the symbol for perhaps tourism for the entire state of Mississippi.”

He estimated the cost at about $75 million, but said it would be possible to raise the money.

“It will take a monumental effort,” he said. “It will take engagement at the federal level, state level, national foundations, certainly national corporations.”

He is also actively involved in the process of trying to open the bridge to pedestrians, and sounded hopeful they may have a breakthrough in the near future.

“Kansas City Southern Railroad does not want the bridge open,” he said. “I am not going to talk about the legal issues, but I will say we are making an effort just in the next few days to overcome those legal obstacles and try to get the (Bridge) Commission to go ahead and make know to the railroad they intend to open the bridge.”