Meridian Star

February 24, 2013

It's time to make Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center a reality

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Efforts to raise funds for a downtown Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center are expected to begin in earnest soon.

    The biggest hurdle to overcome before construction of the proposed 58,461-square-foot museum can begin is the anticipated $44 million price tag.

    As Clay Holiday — one of 14 members of the MAEC Board — said at a Feb. 12 meeting to update community leaders on the center's progress, "At some point Meridian will have to get behind the project and show that Meridian is for it."

    Holiday is right. In 2001 the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 2666, establishing the center and progress on the public-private venture has lagged ever since.

    Meridian wasn't the only city in the running for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. At some point officials in one of those other cities could rightly argue that they should be granted the opportunity to build the museum if Meridian can't make it happen.

    That would be a shame.

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

    Not only could the museum attract tourists, but it could become a regional draw, bringing in residents from surrounding counties.

    Other cities have built downtown coliseums, semi-pro ballparks and, yes, museums, that served as a catalyst to spark downtown revitalization, resulting in the establishment of more restaurants, entertainment venues and apartments.

    We don't have a crystal ball, and to say that construction of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center will transform downtown Meridian would be irresponsible on our part. We can say, however, it very well might.

    Among other things, conceptual drawings depict a Hall of Fame, outdoor amphitheater, broadcast studio, special exhibits gallery, multipurpose room, office and administrative space on the first floor. The second floor would feature exhibits of highlighting the rich cultural history of Mississippi. A two story water feature is depicted in the center of the building.

    That could change, of course. The point is the museum would be something residents could be proud to have in their community.

    We hope that a feasibility study to be completed will indicate the potential economic impact the museum could have on Meridian and Lauderdale County.

    People like hard numbers and they like to know what they are getting for their money.

    According to literature compiled by the center's board, benefits would include:

    • A one-of-a-kind venue for the celebration of Mississippi's arts and entertainment icons.

    • An educational resource for individuals and educators.

    • A location for a variety of activities before and after downtown events.

    • A magnet to attract new businesses and tourism.

    • An opportunity to enhance the quality of life for the greater Meridian area.

    The state granted $4 million for the project, which has paid for design work done on the project so far. By committing the money, the state has shown that it is serious about doing its part.

    The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center will be underwritten in part by a community-wide fundraising initiative. Individuals, and officials with area businesses and corporations will soon be asked to help make the center a reality by showing their financial support.

    Now is the time to show that we as a community are serious as well.