Meridian Star

October 10, 2012

Architect delivers update on Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center

By Terri Ferguson Smith / tsmith@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     A long-awaited project to build the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center in Meridian is a step closer to becoming a reality. It still has a ways to go, but conceptual drawings of the center, to be located on property at the corner of 22nd Avenue and Front Street, were revealed Tuesday to members of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation.

    Bob Luke, an architect with LPK Architects in Meridian, presented an update on the project that began in 2001 when the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 2666, establishing the center.

    Meridian was chosen for its home and in 2005 the Legislature passed a bill approving a local food and beverage tax of up to 2 percent in Meridian to help fund the project. The bill was subject to approval by Meridian voters in a referendum; however no referendum has ever been called, so the tax has not gone into effect. That particular legislation is only good for this project and cannot be used for any other project, Luke said.

    In 2006, the state issued $4 million in bonds to get the project going. Last year and this year, The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center Board of Directors purchased the property and tore down the existing buildings there. The property is now project-ready, Luke said.

    A professional design team is now in the process of completing the project's design and drawings. Those are expected to be completed by the summer of 2013.

    The work that has been done so far has been funded by the $4 million from the state, Luke said, but now the project is entering another phase — fundraising.

    "They are interviewing private fundraisers to solicit private funds for this project," Luke said. "There is a lot of potential money on the table that will allow us to do something good."

    Luke told EMBDC members that between $30 million to $40 million is needed to construct the center.

    "They are now trying to raise construction dollars," Luke said. "When we met with the governor a couple of weeks ago, he was very excited, very supportive. He said, 'Alright, let's get going. Let's make this thing happen.' That means we've got to get public money. We obviously need to start in Meridian."

    Gov. Phil Bryant asked them to add a recording studio to the center, so they have included one in the plans, Luke said.

    Typically, museum projects get about half their funding from public dollars; and about half from private sources, he said.

    Money will come from outside of Meridian and Lauderdale County as well.

    "This is not a Meridian project. It's located in Meridian. We're the beneficiaries, but it's statewide," Luke said. "But we can't go to Jackson and ask for state money unless we put our money where our mouth is first."

    As to the question of what the city and county will be asked to contribute, Luke said no dollar amount has been discussed.

    "The city and county are both being supportive and they're both talking about how they can participate," Luke said. "I don't think anybody has issued an official request, nor have they provided any in-depth support other than conceptually they support the project and are trying to work with us. The county has made it clear that they will do whatever they need to do to step up to the plate. The same with the city."

    Mayor Cheri Barry said the city is 100 percent in favor of the project, but it's too early to name an amount the city could give to the project.

    "I think that the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment (board) has ample time to look at it and determine how they are going to move forward with fundraising," Barry said. "When the timing is right, I think you'll see this community coming together in support of this project. We're still in hard times and it would be premature to say what we can do at this point."

    Joe Norwood, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, also serves on the Entertainment Center Board of Directors.

    "Specifically, I can't say what the county can do," Norwood said. "We've been dealing with this for years and there is support from this Board of Supervisors to see this project through."