Meridian Star

September 29, 2013

Our View: September 29, 2013

Special to The Star

MERIDIAN — We need to do our part to fund MAEC

    The Phil Hardin Foundation's pledge Tuesday to donate $3 million as the lead donor for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center to be built in Meridian is a major step in the right direction in making the 58,461-square-foot museum a reality.

    Robert Ward, Phil Hardin Foundation Board president, made the announcement during a press conference attended by city, county and state officials.

    The project has lagged since 2001 when the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 2666, establishing the center. Since then, the biggest hurdle has been the $44 million price tag to build the center, which will be dedicated to honoring the state's rich legacy as the home to some of the world's most renowned actors, authors, musicians and artists.

    It is important that we in the greater Meridian area back local efforts to raise money for the museum prior to the kickoff of a statewide fundraising campaign after the first of the year.

    As MAEC Executive Director Marty Gamblin pointed out, "We have to make a statement here because this is where it's going to benefit the most."

    Getting others in the state to contribute to the project is going to be difficult if they aren't convinced that there is a commitment here.

    The project will also need residents' support of a prepared food and beverage tax to help fund the museum and pay for operation costs.

    So what will area residents get in return?

    "This world class entertainment center will tell the whole story of Mississippi — a story that has not been told," MAEC President Tommy Dulaney said. "This center will not only draw visitors from across the state but from across the country and around the world to learn about Mississippi's diverse history."

    There is a lot to tell.

    The museum will honor the lives and works of the likes of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, Morgan Freeman and Sela Ward, and Elvis Presley and Jimmie Rodgers.

    The museum will pay tribute to musicians from localities throughout the state, such as LeAnn Rimes (Pearl); Charley Pride (Sledge); Britney Spears (McComb); Faith HIll (Star); Ike Turner (Clarksdale); B.B. King (Indanola); Tammy Wynette (Tremont); Moe Bandy (Meridian); and Jimmy Buffet (Pascagoula).

    Actors from the Magnolia State to be featured at the museum include the likes of James Earl Jones (Arkabutla); Ray Walston (Laurel); Channing Tatum (Pascagoula): Keith Thibodeaux (Jackson); and Stella Stevens (Hot Coffee), to name a few.

    Authors include Tennessee Williams (Columbus); Alice Walker (Jackson); Thomas Harris (Rich); and Haze Brannon Smith (Durant).

    Mississippi is home to an abundance of visual artists, dancers and others harder to categorize, such as comedian Jerry Clower (Liberty), "Die Hard" movie producer Lawrence Gordon (Belzoni), and Oprah Winfrey (Kosciusko).

    Those are just a fraction of the talented people who hail from the Magnolia State who will be featured at the arts and entertainment center. Studies have shown that people will travel to visit places that offer historical and cultural attractions.

    In fact, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, visiting historic sites or museums ranks third only behind shopping and outdoor pursuits for travelers in this country.

    We had hoped a feasibility study commissioned would indicate the potential economic impact the museum would have on the greater Meridian area. Unfortunately, the scope of the study did not include that information.

    But we do know that other cities have seen a marked increase in tourism after opening similar museums.

    According a 2010 study — "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" — America's arts industry generated more than $135 billion in economic activity.

    Tourists stay at local hotels, eat at restaurants and visit area attractions. Tourism dollars not only support area businesses, but increase local tax revenues that could be used to improve roads and hire additional law enforcement officers.

    That's good for the greater Meridian area, and for the state.