Meridian Star

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March 29, 2006

Arts and Entertainment Center gets a boost

The proposed Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, on life support for a few years because of an apathetic state Legislature, is breathing again.

Lawmakers allocated $4 million for the Bonita Lakes facility in a $192 million bond bill passed late Tuesday night. The funding has strings attached — and is only a fraction of the estimated $69 million needed for completion of the complex. But it’s a start. And importantly, for the first time since state officials chose Meridian as the site of the facility several years ago, the Legislature has paid more than lip service to the need for an Arts and Entertainment Center to showcase Mississippi’s rich musical and artistic heritage.

The bond legislation stipulates that $8 million in private money be raised for the project before the state disburses its $4 million. Such a provision may have been necessary to gain the support of Gov. Haley Barbour, who must sign the bond bill in order for it to become law. Still, we are compelled to remind Barbour and lawmakers that it was state government, not Meridian, that conceived the Arts and Entertainment Center as a statewide hall of fame and museum complex. Curiously, it has since been recast by lawmakers as a “local project” that should be built primarily with non-state funds, thus the $8 million match requirement.

Raising $8 million is a tall order, but this community and other supporters of the Arts and Entertainment Center should approach the task with much zeal and enthusiasm. The center’s potential is enormous, and East Mississippi’s economy would be one of the primary beneficiaries. Think of the thousands of tourists from around the world who would visit a shrine to such musical greats as Elvis Presley, B.B. King and Faith Hill, to name a few. An adjacent amphitheater at the beautiful Bonita Lakes site would be a terrific venue for outdoor performances by big-name acts.

Radio and television personality Paul Ott and other members of the Arts and Entertainment Center board will have primary responsibility for raising the $8 million in private funds. But they will need lots of help. The good folks of Meridian and East Mississippi should be among the first to volunteer their services.

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