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Hattiesburg Unveils Downtown Photo Gallery Celebrating Bicentennial

Hattiesburg Unveils Downtown Photo Gallery Celebrating Bicentennial


November 9, 2017 (Hattiesburg, Miss.)– As part of Mississippi’s Bicentennial celebrations, several storefront windows in Downtown Hattiesburg are showcasing large-scale photos as part of a public gallery to highlight the stories of local community leaders.  Hattiesburg is one of ten small towns elected to participate in “Celebrating Storytellers”, a statewide project that will create one hundred short stories to commemorate the Mississippi Bicentennial in 2017. 


Blue Magnolia Films, in partnership with Robert St. John, Hattiesburg Arts Council, Visit Hattiesburg, Downtown Hattiesburg and The City of Hattiesburg, facilitated a workshop in October to gather and produce digital stories that shared the importance of Hattiesburg’s community development and cultural vitality in Mississippi.  The photo story series and the newly installed photo galleries downtown create a Bicentennial portfolio for residents and visitors to enjoy. 


            Each participant captured the “spirit” of Hattiesburg uniquely through their own lens, payinghomageto themes that have definedthe cityhistorically, while helping tocast a vision for the future. Several portions of the Hattiesburg gallery will be on display in Jackson in December as part of the state’s official commemoration of the Bicentennial, including the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.


Hattiesburg Mayor, Toby Barker says, “The Bicentennial is an occasion to honor the diversity of our stories, and pay forward values upon which future generations can build. We are proud of the community leaders who will come together for this week to celebrate our history and help to envision the next chapter.”


            "This is just another aspect of how the arts tells our story, not just through music, dance or theatre, but through the human emotion and experience that’s related to a sense of place,” Rebekah Johnson, Executive Director of Hattiesburg Arts Council said

            Hattiesburg native and restaurateur, Robert St. John, focused his story on the legacy of Coney Island Cafe, a landmark in downtown Hattiesburg for decades. Opened in 1923 by Arthur Fokakis, who immigrated to Hattiesburg from Greece, his son, Arthur Fokakis Jr., took over the business. St. John says the restaurant maintains a “spirit of independence that helps to tell the story of the our community.”


            “The Fokakis establishment has made a huge impression on me growing up. It reminds me of the importance of enduring businesses to connect us with a sense of place and tradition, and knowing where we come from,” St. John said.


            Visit Hattiesburg and Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association say they will be integrating the large-scale photo gallery into upcoming events in November to complete celebrations of the Mississippi Bicentennial. 


            “Through this project, we have captured the essence and authenticity of our community in a very special way. This large-scale photo gallery and online video series showcase our culture and celebrate our diversity,” VisitHattiesburg Executive Director Marlo Dorsey said.


“We welcome visitors and residents to enjoy these vivid photo galleries in person as we highlight this important bicentennial occasion,” HHDA Executive Director Andrea Saffle said.


            Participants include: Robert St. John (Restauranteur), Rebekah Stark Johnson (Executive Director, Hattiesburg Arts Council), Carey Hudon (Musician), Dr. Richard H. Clark (Founder, Hattiesburg Clinic), HibaTahir (Managing Editor, The Student Printz), Abigail Lenz Allen (Songstress, Hattiesburlesque), David S. Price(Historian), Scott Waldrop (Debate Coach, Hattiesburg High) and Charles Brown (U.S. Army Veteran & Hub Award Recipient)


Local partners have been instrumental in this project including the Hattiesburg Arts Council, Visit Hattiesburg, Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association, City of Hattiesburg, and New South Restaurant Group.

            The downtown photo gallery will be on display through January.  For more information on the storytellers and their stories, visit

Save the Federal Historic Tax Credit

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan significantly expanded an innovative program to draw investment to the rehabilitation of older properties, now known as the federal historic tax credit. He was so impressed with the program’s success, he made it a permanent part of the tax code in 1986. Actually, nothing is permanent, as Congress is about to change the code. That’s the current dilemma in the throw everything out new tax proposal. Much good about to be thrown away with the some bad. That’s going to hurt the Valley.

On September 14, 1984 at the Conference for Revitalizing America’s Towns President Reagan said this about historic tax credit legislation that encouraged historic preservation and economic development in small towns.

“I’d like to draw your attention to a major innovation that our administration put into effect less than 3 years ago. Increased tax credits for the renovation of older buildings. With that one initiative, we have help send your tax dollars back into your communities. Across America people are getting the message, our tax credits have made the preservation of our older building not only a matter of respect for beauty and history, but of economic good sense. I know your effort will give our towns more restored buildings, more jobs, and renewed sense of pride. And that will be good for our entire nation. But while our country’s muscle may lie in our great industrial cities, America’s heart is in our small towns.”
Water Valley came late to the economic development through historic preservation realization. But we have been on steady (and much noticed) revitalization trajectory since. Thirty-five commercial buildings in the downtown district stock of 110 have been renovated. Ninety new jobs downtown, twenty-six new businesses, and $10 million in private money invested in downtown. The overall effect has helped bring surrounding neighborhoods back, significantly increasing value in town and adding revenue to the city’s coffers.

A major tool in the small town economic development effort, the federal historic tax credit, the very one President Reagan thought so highly of, is about to be killed by the coming tax bill. It is cut off your nose to spite your face move. Not only does the historic tax credit help fix small towns, it returns more money than it costs. The tax credit works like this. First you must fix the building to a certain quality and quantity of work. Then apply for the credit.  And only then can you apply the credit against federal tax you owe. We have used these credits efficiently and effectively in Water Valley.
Since President Reagan delivered these remarks more than 30 years ago over 42,000 buildings have been restored, with $130 billion (that’s right billion) private capital invested, and 2.5 million jobs created. For every dollar of credit, a $1.20 has been returned to the Treasury. It makes money for every taxpayer, a steady 20 percent return on every public dollar spent.

Since that time, the federal historic tax credit has played a critical role in revitalizing small towns and cities, creating jobs, and increasing economic activity, all while returning more tax revenue to the Treasury than it costs.
Congress is finalizing tax reform legislation, but has failed to retain the historic tax credit. It is a major mistake and will dramatically hurt Water Valley and small towns across America.

In March of this year I was in Washington DC advocating in Congress for development in Water Valley. Meeting with Mississippi’s senators and congressmen. There is a bill in Congress that Mississippi wholehearted supports, both Mississippi senators and all 4 representatives have signed on to support this bill (S425/HR1158). This would make the historic tax credit more small business and Main Street building friendly. So, Mississippi still believes in small towns. The current tax cutting measure runs counter to what has been working so well in Water Valley.

Call your senators and representatives and remind them how important this is. They should tell their colleagues. Main Streets and small businesses don’t get much encouragement or incentives like big industries. These credits are proven performers.

Join us in urging Congress to continue this important legacy and keep the tax credit in any reform of the tax code. ACT NOW:

See the short video on YouTube, search “National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Tax Credit Makes Economic Good Sense”. Water Valley is one of the towns pictured in it.

What’s the big deal about downtown?

What's the big deal about downtown?


I'm often asked why I focus on downtown revitalization so much.  The three most common areas in rural areas that we hear need to be addressed are workforce, housing and leadership. How does downtown revitalization fit into that picture?


Your downtown is the heart of your city. It's the one place that everyone can identify with and claim ownership to. The buildings downtown tell our histories and encompass the memories of its people. The parades, the celebrations, the get togethers are generally held downtown and what people remember.


Andy Kitsinger, principal at The Development Studio says "In most cases downtowns serve as the engine for local economies. However, downtowns are much more than a profit center to cities. They also represent the image and character of a city to the rest of the world. Downtowns are unique in that they are typically the only neighborhood that belongs to and is shared by everyone in the region."


For local industry to attract workforce to the area, they will want to showcase the quality of life in the community. Schools, parks and an active downtown really matter to people who are looking to move to your area. It's believed that if you can't take care of the face of your community (downtown) how can you take care of me as a resident?


Second story housing downtown is gaining popularity for a variety of people. The trend to living in a walkable community is rising.  You can now work from home and live in the downtown area and accomplish everything you need in one area. Having a car is not so important anymore, with the advent of affordable rentals and being able to work from home. We're seeing young people taking advantage of this trend. Not surprisingly, we are also seeing baby boomers wanting to move out of their sprawling homes into a a loft unit downtown. This makes room for the young parents to move into those former baby boomer homes.


But first you need the vibrant downtown area that includes retail and services. You need to focus on the things that showcase quality of life for your residents. These events and activities typically happen downtown.


In the Survey of Rural Challenges* the top five concerns were:  
1. Downtown is dead
2. Losing young people
3. No one shops in town
4. Missing out on tourism opportunities
5. Need new residents


All of these concerns can be addressed by starting with downtown revitalization. Helping your downtown and retailers will create a more vibrant downtown and reason for shopping. Bringing back the pride in your downtown, and involving your youth in the process, helps to bring those same youth back to town after they've gone to college or trade school. When tourists visit, they want to eat and shop - and explore your downtown. If you're working on 2nd story housing, now you're offering cool and unique places for people to live.


Downtown matters, it's the heart of your city. Keep that heart beating and healthy!



From Small Biz Matters

New Members elected to Miss. Main Street State Board


JACKSON, Miss. -- Three new members have been elected to the Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) Board of Directors. The new members were nominated and elected by the statewide board.


The new members are Tray Hairston, attorney at Butler Snow in Jackson, Mayor Carolyn McAdams, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Greenwood, and Chance McDavid, director of the Asset Development Division at the Mississippi Development Authority.


Hairston focuses his practice on public finance, economic development, and government relations. Before joining the firm, he served as Counsel and Economic Development Advisor to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. He has served as Bond Counsel for various cities and counties throughout Mississippi. He is also an adjunct law professor and regularly publishes scholarly legal articles. Hairston currently serves on the economic development steering committee for Tougaloo College and is a board member of Mississippi Today.


Mayor McAdams is responsible for all functions of the executive branch of Greenwood's municipal government. McAdams serves as the Chief Executive Officer for the City of Greenwood over five departments (administration, city clerk, fire, police, public works) and two divisions (human resources and inspection). She is in charge of all day-to-day operations and decision making and works closely with the City Council by proposing policy items that benefit the citizenry of Greenwood.


McDavid was recently named the Director of the Asset Development Division at the Mississippi Development Authority.  Previously, he served as senior Extension associate with the Southern Rural Development Center and Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University. He has nearly 15 years of experience in community and economic development serving at the local, regional, and state levels with university Extension and outreach as well as serving as Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership.

The MMSA board is made up of a statewide group of business, government and community leaders. Remaining members of the 2017 MMSA Board of Directors are as follows:
President Allison Beasley, Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District; President-elect Ed Gardner, Entergy; Treasurer Kevin Stafford, Neel-Schaffer, Inc., Past-President Suzanne Smith, Renasant Bank; Steven B. Dick, Mississippi Power; Chris Chain, Renovations of Mississippi, Inc.; Kagan Coughlin, Base Camp Coding Academy; Tara Lytal, Main Street Clinton; Russell Baty, The Main Street Chamber of Leake County; Steve Kelly, Board Member Emeritus; Keith A. Williams, Hancock Bank; Katie Blount and Michelle Jones, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; Jim West, College of Architecture, Art and Design at Mississippi State University; Glenn McCullough, Mississippi Development Authority; Ken P'Pool, Mississippi Department of Archives and History; and Leah Kemp, The Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University.




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Ocean Springs, a town with a reputation as an “arts community” has several art galleries and was hometown to the late Walter Inglis Anderson, a nationally renowned painter and muralist.

Mississippi Main Street Association
P.O. Box 55747 | Jackson, MS 39296
Phone: 601/944-0113
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426 Northpointe Lake Dr. | Oxford, MS 38655 | 601-941-5409
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