Terri Ferguson Smith
With a growing population in the Lauderdale County jail, and efforts under way to attract more tourism to the downtown area, some are wondering if county officials would consider moving the jail from downtown.
In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, James L. McRae, president of the board of directors of the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum, listed numerous reasons why he believes the move would be good for tourism.
He presented the letter and spoke to the board on Monday.
"Having spent the last few years working with the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum, better known as the Soule' Museum, and joining with the other downtown agencies trying to develop more tourism for Lauderdale County, I feel it will never be possible to realize any meaningful tourism business development with the jail located in the approximate center of the area," McRae wrote. "There are far too many prisoners in green-stripe clothes and too much razor wire downtown. Visitors and prisoners do not mix."
Instead of spending more money to add to the prefabricated cells, McRae asked the board to consider finding property outside of the downtown area and building the jail there. He also suggested that the board move the courtrooms and sheriff's department to the new location.
During the meeting, Sheriff Billy Sollie said he had no objections to moving the jail. McRae also asked the board to consider allowing him and contractor Tim Allred the opportunity to approach investors who might be interested in converting the Raymond P. Davis Annex, which used to be a hotel, back into a hotel. Numerous county offices are currently housed in the Davis building. He asked for six months to approach investors and the board agreed.
"I realize the county has a considerable investment in the annex and the existing jail, but perhaps we could recoup some of this money and solve another tourism development requirement we have all talked about for several years — a downtown hotel," McRae wrote.
Dede Mogollon, executive director of Visit Meridian Tourism, said a downtown hotel would be great for Meridian.
"We are always getting feedback from visitors and our competitor cities that we have a true gem in our downtown area," Mogollon said. "It would be a wonderful improvement to the continuing tourism development downtown if we had a private investor develop a hotel with a banquet space to support the MSU Riley Center and the monies were available to relocate the jail."
McRae said the ideal location for a jail would allow the jail, sheriff's office, and the county courtrooms to be built together with ample parking for jurors and people summoned to court.
"Money would be saved by eliminating prisoner transportation costs, plus enhance community safety," McRae wrote. "This new facility would also solve the downtown parking problem for visitors and downtown employees on court days. Relocation would be a win-win for everyone."
Terri Ferguson Smith
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