Meridian Star

Local News

October 31, 2010

Company working to revive Meridian

Consultant will design ‘multi-facility, mixed use development’ for Threefoot building

MERIDIAN —     The original development deal for the Threefoot building may be gone, but that doesn't mean the Threefoot, or downtown as a whole, is forgotten.

    The City of Meridian has just accepted a grant that will fund a study of the Threefoot building, and has hired a development consultant that will help the city decide how to develop all of Meridian, but especially downtown and the Threefoot building.

    The consultant, Jackson's Watkins Development, has worked on numerous projects in the Jackson area, including the highly publicized King Edward Building, which was completed by HRI Properties, a New Orleans historic buildings developer that was working on the Threefoot Building until their agreement with the city was terminated.

    The city has hired Watkins Development at a cost of $10,000 a month, with a one year contract that will be automatically renewed each year "for a number of years", according the agreement with the city. Their contract with the city states that $10,000 a month is a fifty percent reduction on their usual fee.

    According to Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry, Watkins Development will, "come in and help with the development and different projects."

    In the words of their agreement with the city, Watkins Development will, "develop a long range strategic vision for the development of the City of Meridian, with particular emphasis on the redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown area."

    Part of Watkins Development's job will be to create a "Vision" for the development of the city over the next 10 years. In creating the vision, Watkins Development will look for ways that other governmental agencies and the private sector might be willing to join in the development of Meridian.

    Watkins Development makes clear in the contract that they are a consultant who will make recommendations, and will not perform architectural or engineering services.

    Watkins Development CEO David Watkins did not return numerous phone calls for comment from the Meridian Star, made over the course of several months. However, some information on their agreement with the city was available on their website at www.watkinspartners.com/Meridian.htm.

    According to their site, they will begin by creating a plan for the development of Freedom Park, the planned civil rights memorial honoring James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman, three civil rights workers who were murdered near Meridian in the 1960s. Plans to locate the memorial in downtown's African-American Historic Business District have long been talked about.

    Watkins Development will also make a plan for developing the Threefoot building and the area around it into a commercial complex.

    "A second and more ambitious undertaking is the task of taking on the Threefoot building," the Web site reads. "We are working on a multi-facility, mixed use development for the building and surrounding property that will include a convention center hotel, an apartment complex, and retail and commercial space." 

    The site said the goals of the development are to complement the adjacent MSU-Riley Center for Education and the Performing Arts, create employment and business opportunities, and create tax revenue for the city, all through a "vibrant, sustainable and urban core."

    Barry said the city and Watkins Development are also having discussions about developing Monument Park, 22nd Avenue, and the highways that run through Meridian.

    "They're going to come in and look at all the studies and help us put it to work," Barry said. "This is so positive for our community."

    The grant the city received for the Threefoot building is for $150,000 and comes from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The building was eligible for the grant because it is designated a Mississippi Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.    

    According to MDAH Director Hank Holmes, the grant will "support a study of the foundation of the building and also an engineering study of the building itself to determine what would have to be done to rehabilitate the building."

    "If we're going to do anything with the Threefoot building at all, we've got to know what we're dealing with," said Meridian CAO Mark McDonald. "Before we move forward with this building, we want to do that study."

    The study will help prospective developers know what they're getting into, and will help the city, which owns the building, more fully understand what it's got on its hands.

    When HRI Properties had an agreement to renovate the building into a hotel, the city's administration didn't feel the developer had looked deeply enough at what needed to be done to restore the building, particularly in the case of its foundation.

    "In all the discussion the previous administration had with HRI, there never was a structural foundation study on that building," said McDonald. "That was one of the pieces we thought was missing (with HRI)."

    Holmes said the study, which will be performed by a contractor that the city hires, will make clear, "if someone were to rehabilitate the building, what they would have to do."

    When asked if MDAH would help the city find further funding for the Threefoot building, Holmes said, "We certainly will support additional funding. I don't know that this agency would have the funds to put into it. . . We're trying to make our contribution toward saving the building by funding this initial study."

    City officials have not said when the study will begin, or when the ideas of Watkins Development will be made public.

   

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