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Meridian Saves Threefoot Building

City says Yes to Threefoot

Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith was full of dramatic emotion after the Meridian City Council finally approved the Threefoot development proposal that he has pushed for so long.
After the council's vote Monday morning, Smith looked close to tears. With his hand over his heart, he took a deep breath, and directed a reverent gaze in the direction of the Threefoot building, and told local media, "The public knows I'm normally not at a loss for words... But the potential good for this community leaves one almost speechless."

The council voted 3-2 to approve a proposal by New Orleans developer HRI Properties to renovate downtown's long abandoned Threefoot building into a hotel. The city will guarantee $14 million of the project's $50 million financing. HRI CEO Pres Kabakoff said the first demolition phase of renovation will begin in April. He described this phase as "interior clean-up and assessment." Experts will begin to assess the exterior structure of the building right away.

Council people Mary A.B. Perry (Ward 2), Jesse E. Palmer, Sr. (Ward 4) and John Harris (Ward 5) voted for the proposal. George Thomas (Ward 1) and Barbara Henson (Ward 3) voted against it. Palmer had previously said that he would not vote for the proposal and gave no public indication, as Thomas and Henson did, that he might reconsider. He had a change of heart, he said, because he was told that the project could potentially create 1,700 permanent jobs for Meridian, both directly and indirectly.

The project will directly create 55 permanent jobs and more than 350 construction jobs, Kabakoff said. "I've reached the age now where I have to do what I think is best and take a chance," Palmer said. "There's a possibility of a lot of good that can be done here. 1,700 jobs and people walking around everywhere. If I take a hit, so be it."

In addition to stating that the project could bring 1,700 jobs to Meridian, Kabakoff said that HRI has been looking into the development of "creative artist housing" in the downtown area West of 23rd Avenue. Kabakoff and others from HRI toured the area after the council meeting. The point of the artist housing, he said, is to stimulate creative activity in what is currently a depressed area.

As part of its agreement with the city council, HRI will also develop the Kress building into a 950 to 1,000 person capacity banquet hall. Kabakoff said the renovation will cost an estimated $11 million, and that HRI should be able to bring in about $6 million of that financing. The city has received support from local business people who want to see the project go forward — seven business people have agreed to back $2 million of the city's $14 million guarantee.

The group of business people have pledged to pay 50 percent of the city's debt, up to $150,000 a year, for up to 15 years between 2015 and 2030 if the project fails. That's a total of $2.25 million. They have pledged $2.25 million collectively, not $2.25 million each. The business people, whose names were not released, have made their pledge in a letter. City Attorney Bill
Hammack said he will create a legally binding document for them to sign. Though it was suggested, the council did not include a contingency on the signing of that document in their motion to accept the proposal.

The city will also have $1.25 million from the sale of the Threefoot building on reserve in case debt service has to be paid. In exchange for their commitment, the business people have asked to be considered first if the building is ever sold.

"I feel very good," Kabakoff said after the council's vote. "I personally took a lot of interest in this project...This city has been in (HRI's) vocabulary for 20 years." Perry and Harris were both vocal about their reasons for supporting the project. Perry said that she felt the decision was clear. If the council did not approve the proposal, they would
certainly have to spend up to $11 million in taxpayer dollars either demolishing or stabilizing the building, she said. With HRI's proposal, if the project is successful the city will not have to spend its general obligation bonds.

If the project fails completely, the city will have to spend some part of the $14 million. Even in that case, the city will not have to pay anything for seven years, giving the council time to set money aside for a worst case scenario, Perry said. "I don't see the problem now," Perry said. "I see it as planning."

Perry also noted that the contract specifies local laborers will be used wherever possible during construction. HRI said they plan to use White Construction, the Ridgeland based contractor that worked on the MSU-Riley Center for the Performing Arts and employs numerous Meridianites. Harris said his support of the project was in large part due to Abdul Lala, who had proposed a competing project but later recommended HRI's project over his own. Lala gave his recommendation when HRI made a commitment to create the Kress building into a banquet hall.

"We have an opportunity to do something, not for this generation, but generations to come... We have an opportunity to make history right now" Harris said. "I would much rather invest money in this building and get something out of it than have a hole in the ground and get nothing out of it."

Thomas and Henson said they were also thinking about future generations — but in terms of the debt they may have to pay if the project fails. "No one on the city council is opposed to saving the Threefoot building," Thomas said. "The question is how much risk." Thomas said he would have voted for the project if the city had been asked to back $7 million or less.

After the council approved the proposal, both Henson and Thomas said they would henceforth give the
project their support and cooperation. "We (the council) are a team," Thomas said. "We're going to support the project... We're not against the
project. It's just a matter of money."

"We (as a council) just want what's best for this city," Henson said.

Smith, who has been the project's biggest proponent, was grateful for the council's decision. "I sincerely believe this is one of those defining moments where government has the courage to reach out and grab the future," he said. "It was a very difficult process. Much longer than I anticipated, but the end is one that I am pleased with for my grandson Ethan as much as anyone else."

By Jennifer Jacob Brown
The Meridian Star

Unveiling Ceremony for Tupelo’s Second Blues Marker

Thursday, January 8
Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau
3 p.m.
The Shakerag community will be recognized Thursday for its contribution to the Blues and its influence on Elvis. For more information call the Tupelo Convention & Visitors Bureau at 662-841-6521 or 800-533-0611.

Downtown Tupelo Property Owners to get Design Help

In January, the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association will kick off a workshop series that is geared to educate commercial property owners about good design.

The workshop series, "Keeping Up Appearances," is based on principles from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Debbie Brangenburg, executive director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association, said the group decided to put on the free workshops after seeing the emphasis on design in the city's recently adopted comprehensive plan.

"Design was one of the top priorities and our committees felt one of the first steps should be education," she said.

Michael Grey Jones, a partner at JBHM Architects and DTMSA's design committee chairman, added, "In the design committee, we wanted to be proactive and show people what looks good downtown, instead of sitting back and saying, 'Boy, you didn't do that right.'"

Workshop sessions include "making good design happen" (Jan. 22), "storefronts that sell" (Feb. 19), "design assessment tools" (March 19) and "keeping up appearances" (April 16).

The sessions start at 5 p.m. at the City Council chambers in Tupelo's City Hall. Jones said the workshops should last for about 60-90 minutes.

Jones said the workshops are open to the public, but are specifically geared toward the downtown business owners, public officials, building inspectors, planning department employees and people who are affected by regulations in historic districts.

He said he thinks the information from the National Trust about good signs will be especially useful.

"We want to help people make their properties better," he said, adding that many changes are simple but "make a big difference."

The workshops won't emphasize residential design principles, but Jones and Brangenburg said some of the principles will apply.

By Carlie Kollath
Tupelo Daily Journal

Mississippi Main Street Announces New Member Levels

JACKSON, Miss. -- The Mississippi Main Street Association (MMSA) has unveiled new membership levels for 2009. The membership levels include Friends of Main Street, Association Members, Downtown Network Members and Main Street Members.

The Friends of Main Street membership is reserved for individuals, corporations and other not-for-profit associations who support the work and mission of MMSA. Members receive limited services but are invited to receive limited phone consultation from MMSA staff, subscription to the MMSA E-newsletter, invitation to the MMSA Annual Awards Luncheon and reduced registration fees to regularly scheduled training and educational meetings and workshops. This membership fee is $100 annually.

The Association Membership level replaces the former Municipal Membership. This membership provides a range of services and assistance to meet a variety of community development and readiness levels. It is for communities that are either just starting a downtown revitalization effort or those that do not wish to become a designated Main Street community or a Mississippi Downtown Network Member at this time. Communities participating at this membership level can also take advantage of additional training opportunities by purchasing, at a discounted rate, services from the MMSA Menu of Services. This membership fee is $250 annually.

The Mississippi Downtown Network (MDN) Member is a new level of membership offered. This membership provides for communities interested in being a catalyst for change in their downtowns. The MDN level provides a variety of learning opportunities to stakeholders with a role in the preservation and revitalization of Mississippi's historic resources. Communities may or may not have a paid staff member (a local Program Coordinator is required) or Board of Directors that guides their activities, but are interested in improving the economic vitality of their downtown. This membership package allows for greater levels of consultation and technical assistance with MMSA staff than the Association Membership. Communities participating at this membership level can also take advantage of additional training opportunities that may not be included in the Network Membership package by purchasing, at a discounted rate, services from the MMSA Menu of Services. This membership fee is $1,000 annually.

The Main Street Membership is the most comprehensive and valuable package offered. It is only offered to currently designated Main Street Communities or those invited to participate in the MMSA Annual Application Workshop and Selection Process. Communities participating at this membership level can also take advantage of additional training opportunities that may not be included in the membership package by purchasing, at the lowest discounted rate, services from the MMSA Menu of Services. Many of the services listed are provided with the Main Street Membership. The MMSA Membership fee is $10,000 the first year, $6,000 the second year, $4,000 the third year and $2,000 annually thereafter.

Designated Main Street Communities receive a minimum of $25,000 in Technical Assistance during the first year in the program. This is the only membership level that authorizes a community the use of the Main Street trademarked name and Mississippi Main Street logo. It is also the only membership level that has Exclusive rights to Mississippi Main Street Logo/Road Sign Usage provided by MDOT in conjunction with MMSA.

To see a complete listing of Membership Packages, Menu of Services or to learn more about MMSA, please visit

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