By JAMES SKRMETTA
GULFPORT -- The City Council approved two projects Tuesday designed to improve downtown.
One will transform an "eyesore" alley into a "funky, local and fun" area similar to Printer's Alley in Nashville, Tenn. The other will light up Jones Park during the winter holidays.
David Parker, development director, announced a revitalization project to transform a rundown alley on 14th Street and 26th Avenue into a spot for gathering and socializing.
"This alley has been one of the biggest eyesores of downtown," Parker said. "We will create a true destination out of the alley."
The area will get the name Fishbone Alley, Parker said.
"This is the perfect name for the atmosphere we want this area to have," he said. "Funky, local and fun."
Council members said Printer's Alley is a popular tourist spot originally home to newspapers and print shops that turned into a nightclub district in the 1940s when bars there served alcohol, even though it was outlawed.
Mayor Billy Hewes said the Mississippi Main Street Association, which was brought in to advise the revitalization of downtown, thinks this is an idea that could change Gulfport forever.
"This is something that could bring national attention," Hewes said.
Plans for the alley will involve overhead lights, murals, vertical gardens and a new streetscape paved with Gulfport's history.
"We are going to use 51 pallets of bricks we recovered that were the first bricks used to build this city," Parker said.
Hewes said the project will extend business for the six restaurants and bars opening onto the alley and complement any business in the area.
"There's currently a lot of garbage in that space," Hewes said. "I think it would look a lot better filled with hundreds of people enjoying themselves."
In the city budget, it will be classified as a Downtown Streetscape Improvement Project, which has allotted $380,000 to Gulfport alleys.
"The project will be under budget and will do more than anyone can imagine," Parker said.
In other business, Island View resort agreed to donate $2.5 million over five years to sponsor a state-of-the-art Christmas-light display in Jones Park and the harbor, Hewes said.
"This is a project that will reflect the city because it couldn't have been done without the people in our city," Hewes said.
The lights will be synchronized to Christmas music and will have animated panes lit up from the day after Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.
"Everyone has had input with this project," Hewes said. "A huge number of Gulfport residents have had a hand in these lights."
The initial expense for the display will be about $1.3 million, which will fund setup, maintenance and all the decorations. The city has selected Universal Concepts to manage the show.
Councilman Rusty Walker, who is known for creating a computerized Christmas light display at his house, said Universal's proposal scored highest of those submitted.
"Hopefully, this starts a festive fever in Gulfport," Walker said. "This could be something people travel from all over the region to see."
Photo credit: JAMES SKRMETTA/SUN HERALD
The site of the future Fishbone Alley, between 13th and 14th streets, looks like this at present.
Downtown Hattiesburg has lost a former leader and visionary.
Forrest County Coroner Butch Benedict said Bernice Linton, 73, former executive director of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association, died Monday morning in the emergency room of Forrest General Hospital.
Benedict said the cause of death was probable heart problems.
"I believe that's the history that we have (on Linton)," he said. "We'll list a massive heart attack."
Visitation will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Crosspoint Community Church in Hattiesburg, with services following at 3 p.m.
Linton, a Hattiesburg resident, served as president-elect of the HHDA before taking over as executive director on July 1, 2000. She retired in 2007, at which point she was succeeded by Betsy Rowell.
"When she came in to the downtown association, we were just trying to get our legs under us, and she really helped build that (association)," said Larry Albert, owner of Albert & Associates Architects and former HHDA president.
"She was a dynamo down here. She helped my wife build her business (A Gallery Plums), and she helped everybody in downtown build their businesses. She was just a sweet, amazing, smart, honorable person, and I will always miss her."
Linda McMurtrey, who served as Linton's part-time administrative assistant, said Linton helped implement the HHDA's first long-range plan for economic and other development.
"This was the plan that designated development areas of the downtown, such as Front Street and the corner of downtown as the arts and entertainment district," she said. "Other areas such as West Pine were more office-oriented ... and this plan established basic goals for specific areas of downtown and set up a series of goals and objectives."
McMurtrey said Linton made her mark on downtown development at the state level as well as the local level.
"Bernice was a tireless mover and shaker for downtown; she was always 'out there,' on the street, talking to merchants and other downtowners," she said. "Just ask some of the other 'old-timers' such as Erik and Tom Eaves, Michael Anderson and Larry Albert.
"It is hard to imagine that what has occurred in downtown Hattiesburg would have occurred (without her)."
Linton also helped reorganize the Mississippi Main Street program, with herself, McMurtrey and others bringing in Beverly Meng as director of the program.
"With the support of a board and workers such as Bernice, Beverly brought the (program) to a level among the national leaders," McMurtrey said. "She assisted the existing members of the state program. She was instrumental in helping revitalize and reorganize HHDA, all the time supported by Bernice and others."
Linton was the first woman to be a member of the local Kiwanis Club and eventually served as its president.
"She made a big difference in women joining the Kiwanis Club," Albert said. "And she did that everywhere she went — she was always taking things to the next level.
"She took everybody to the tipping point; everybody that came into contact with her, she helped to make them better. Very, very unique lady in our town."
Andrea Saffle, current HHDA executive director, said Linton was someone she always looked up to.
"I've known Bernice since I was in college, and she was a mentor to me. She tried to get me to take this position a number of times," she said. "When she was (retiring), she tried to get me to take it, but I was still at (Turtle Creek Mall) and it didn't feel like it was the right time for me.
"But I saw her just a month ago at Southbound Bagel, and I went up to her and hugged her and kissed her cheek and said, 'I finally took the job.' I was just so glad that she got to know. She's in a better place now."
Hernando city leaders along with Hernando Main Street/Chamber of Commerce officials will seek community input on the future development of the DeSoto County seat on April 27-29.
It will be the same sort of "visioning process" that helped to transform downtown Starkville from a largely nondescript area of older, often vacant buildings, a hodge-podge of commercial strip centers and an old downtown hotel into a thriving, vibrant college community, well-landscaped and beautified, now marketed as "Mississippi's College Town."
Projects like "The Mill," a private-public partnership, which have turned an old cotton warehouse into an indoor commercial and hotel and convention center complex, have come about due to Starkville's revitalization effort.
Jeannie Waller Zieren, Director of Communications for the Mississippi Main Street Assocation, said Starkville's remarkable turnaround is a lesson for the entire state.
As a result of Starkville's facelift, that city has seen more than $8.6 million in public and private investment since 2010, along with 27 net new jobs and a major expansion in the commercial and residential sectors.
So far, there have been more than 30 cities which have held these so-called "charettes," a French term for an intense two-day visioning process.
The Hernando Charrette will be held at 6 p.m. April 27 at the historic DeSoto County Courthouse.
The results of the charrette will be unveiled to the public on that following Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the courthouse.
"They will make sure your plan is authentic and affordable," Zieren said.
Hernando Main Street officials eagerly anticipate the planned charrette.
"We are a growing community and we have so many great things going for us," said Susan Fernandez, Hernando Main Street/Chamber of Commerce Executive Director. It's (Main Street) a way to expand and enhance these things. It's also a way to make sure that we grow in the right way. We want to preserve what we have and build upon these things for the future."
Main Street Greenwood has a strong history of committed service and collaboration. Former Greenwood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Janice Moor led the “larger than life effort” to establish Main Street Greenwood, according to Allan Hammons, of Hammons & Associates. The first executive director was May Whittington, who later went on to serve in the Mississippi House of Representatives. The original Main Street Greenwood offices were housed in today’s Hammons & Associates conference room.
Some of the earliest projects of Main Street Greenwood included the restoration of the clock and bell tower of the Leflore County Courthouse, the restoration of the historic Keesler Bridge, and the preservation of the Carnegie Library. Other projects have included the installation of downtown benches and the placement of bike racks around the city, as well as having the Greenwood Underpass placed on the National Register of historic places. Since its incorporation, countless façades throughout downtown Greenwood, including over 22 along the Carrollton/Johnson corridor have been restored by Main Street Greenwood.
Today’s Main Street Greenwood is a thriving non-profit organization that continues to work towards preserving downtown Greenwood through façade grant programs, tax credit initiatives and other economic development incentives for small downtown businesses. In addition to the preservation work, Main Street Greenwood also works to promote the downtown area through events such as Que on the Yazoo, Ramcat Rhythm & Brews, Art Alfresco and Red & Greenwood.
Main Street Greenwood appreciates the opportunity to have served the local community for 20 years and looks forward to many more.
Courtesy of Delta Business Journal