Clay Hamilton/The Merdian Star
As you cross over the 22nd Avenue bridge that serves as the primary gateway to downtown Meridian, immediately to your left you will notice a black mesh fence surrounding a mix of overgrown grass and tall weeds. If you haven’t been to town in a few years, you may muse “Look they tore down the old Meridian Hotel.” If you have you may be wondering what that is.
Why is tall grass (and taller weeds) cordoned off by black mesh?
Many of you do know that location is the future home of the Meridian Arts and Entertainment Center. A project that was started in 1999 and was supposed to attract tourism to Meridian and create a few jobs at the original location Bonita Lakes.
Fifteen years later it is now in the heart of Meridian (a much better place for it).
But you wouldn’t know it by driving by the location because one very important piece is missing — a sign.
Something that lets visitors know that we are working on it, that it’s real, and it’s coming soon. In fact, that’s all the sign would have to say. “Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center - Coming soon.”
The MAEC has the funds on hand to create a sign and the economic impact of something as simple as letting folks know it’s there is palpable. We are watching Front Street, one of our most interesting and historic streets struggle to get going and the apparent inertia of the MAEC is most surely a contributing factor. They may be working frantically behind the scenes but as George Carlin used to say about running stop signs “if nobody saw it, it didn’t happen.”
Front street should be a fun place to walk from Miss Alva by Union Station to the old Newell Paper building, which is just begging to be converted into some imaginative use like a music theater or a microbrewery but it’s not. It’s stagnant and the walk has only a few highlights like Crescendo Studio, the Fitness Place, Brickhouse, and Jeans to name some. There was a brief spurt of activity three years ago but again it seems to be standing still with some property for sale for years now.
You can be sure just a sign, especially with graphics of entertainers, and a hint of the excitement that will surely be a part of the Arts and Entertainment center could be the spark that lights the fire that brings Front Street to the front of economic development in beautiful downtown Meridian. Sometimes the key to turning around the local economy is “to fake it until you make it.”
I even believe that Melanie Mitchell who donated the property has connections with a local sign company. Maybe we could get the brother-in-law deal on a nice big sign even if it’s not the permanent extra fancy construction sign.
Actually it doesn’t even have to be a sign. At this point going to Coca-Cola and getting a free banner would be better than the nothing that is up there now.
Laurel recently won “Best Public Improvement Project” from Mississippi Main Street for their “We are Laurel” banner project. Laurel hung a banner helping to build their brand featuring local celebrities from Laurel including Tom Lester who played “Eb” on Green Acres.
I don’t care which but please, please, please PUT SOMETHING UP.
I’m sure the property owners of Front Street and the downtown businesses who count on people coming to downtown Meridian would genuinely appreciate it.
Oh and mow the grass too please. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.