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Mardi Gras 2009 in Vicksburg

Mardi Gras 2009: Parade, ball, mask-making workshop on tap

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras boosters call their annual extravaganza “the greatest free show on earth,” and Vicksburg will offer its own version of the festivities Feb. 21. The Eighth Annual Mardi Gras parade, sponsored by Vicksburg’s Main Street program, will roll along Washington Street from Belmont to Jackson street beginning at 4 p.m.

“We always have a great turnout, and it’s a fun family event,” said Kim Hopkins, director of the Vicksburg Main Street Program.

Though on a smaller scale than the New Orleans granddaddy of Mardi Gras celebrations, the Vicksburg parade is modeled after those in larger cities and features the floats, beads, feathers and other traditional items, Hopkins said.

Other Mardi Gras-related events include a children’s mask-making workshop at the Southern Cultural Heritage Center Feb. 20, and the Seventh Annual Mardi Gras Ball Feb. 21.

The workshop offers kids a chance to make a colorful Mardi Gras mask and have it ready in time for the parade. The ball benefits the Vicksburg Foundation for Historical Preservation.

Parades and balls are traditions of the annual Carnival season that takes place each year at Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. After the revelry, the following day, Ash Wednesday, marks the start of the Lenten season leading up to Easter. Because the date of Easter changes each year, Mardi Gras also falls on different dates from year to year.

The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans was held on Feb. 24, 1857. This year, the official date of Mardi Gras is also Feb. 24.

Several days or even weeks of festivities known as Carnival culminate in Mardi Gras. Krewes, which developed from private social clubs and organizations, generally foot the bill for the floats and colorful beads, feathers, plastic cups and other fun items thrown into the crowds.

Hopkins said Main Street is looking for krewes — any organizations, businesses, schools or clubs — to reserve a place in the Vicksburg Mardi Gras parade.

Anyone interested in entering a float can call the Main Street office or visit the Web site for an application. Fees are $50 for businesses, and $24 for nonprofit organizations. Applications must be made by 4 p.m. Feb. 6.

“We always invite the schools to come with their bands,” Hopkins said.

The event is much like the Christmas parade though on a smaller scale, she said, “and the weather is usually pretty good.”

Street music is also planned for parade day, with stores, balconies and windows of the residences along the parade route decorated.

For schedule and event information, go to www.downtownvicksburg.org.

By Pamela Hitchins
Vicksburg Post

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

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