A consortium of ideas were generated on how the city of Meridian can best use the National Resource Network to continue its quest to build a revitalized medical district.

    Meridian Mayor Assistant Richie McAlister and state House representative Charles Young (D-Meridian) met last month with officials with NRN in Miami. On Tuesday, at the Meridian City Council's work session, McAlister and Young gave an update on how Mayor Percy Bland's administration is progressing with the network.

    "The National Resource Network is helping us move forward with our downtown medical district," McAlister said. "We hope to have a final report completed by the end of the year. One of the keys will be to see if these federal TIGER Grants can help us in the area around the hospital."

    By definition, a TIGER grant, is the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER Discretionary Grant program. The program provides a unique opportunity for the Department of Transportation to invest in road, rail, transit and port projects that promise to achieve national objectives.

    Since 2009, Congress has dedicated more than $4.1 billion for six rounds of TIGER to fund projects that have a significant impact, according to the transportation.gov website.

    Former Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, who is now chairman for Transportation for America in Washington, D.C. said TIGER grants are used for visionary projects. He said his organization, which lobbies Congress on behalf of municipalities for federal transportation funds, has hired Beth Osbourne who was the former Assistant for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation and who ran the TIGER program for its first five rounds of funding projects.

    "The TIGER grant program is for newer approaches to imaginative projects," Smith said. "It's not designed for little projects. It is also highly competitive. Less than 5 percent of the grant applications for it are approved. It is also a program that is over-submitted and underfunded. Currently, the (U.S.) House has set aside only $100 million this year for it but the Senate has asked for $500 million in funding. That's got to be worked out."

    Smith said that a project like a medical district corridor that would create better access to Rush Hospital and Anderson Regional Medical Center could have a chance to qualify for a TIGER grant.

    "They can do that for 14th Avenue because it leads into the hospital area," Smith said. "Eighth Street and 22nd Avenue could also work because they were former U.S. highways back in the day. That's how we were able to plant those trees along 22nd Avenue, coming off the interstate. It created a nice alley into downtown. TIGER grants can do that."

    For Council President Randy Hammon, success with the NRN and the medical district corridor could rest on landing a TIGER grant.

    "The TIGER grant is what it comes down to," Hammon said. "The National Resource Network can tell us what to do on this. I know the federal grant process is set up to want to help cities like us."

    Young said he found the meeting with the NRN officials informative and felt Meridian will have a chance to create a better downtown environment for business and the medical community.

    "We met with city officials who have similar problems to us in scope and with blighted areas," Young said. "I think they can help us create scenarios to rehab and repair those properties that need it and help our downtown business area reach its potential."

    Young cited Gov. Phil Bryant's 2012 Health Care Zone Master Plan as another avenue that could help Meridian with its goal. This plan is designed to be an economic development tool for communities to facilitate health care job creation and wealth, according to Bryant's website.

    "Health care is an industry of necessity, and I am committed to fostering a positive environment for medical development that will increase both economic opportunities and access to cutting edge medical care," Bryant states in a website release.

    Back in June, Bryant made an unscheduled tour of Anderson Regional Cancer Center's new TomoTherapy System. The TomoTherapy System treatment could allow cancer patients a higher quality of cancer care and higher survival rates, according to officials at the center.

    Bland said he remains optimistic that the vision of a revitalized medical district can happen.

    "This is very important, strategically, for the long term future for the city," Bland said. "They saw some areas where we could improve. We are limited in some ways in how we can maintain downtown, like how are we going to take those pieces of property and give private investors the opportunity to invest in that area. If we don't find ways, we're going to end up knocking down some of these dilapidated houses and spend money and resources without private investment.

    "With the medical corridor plan, I'm very glad with what they (McAlister and Young) brought back and we're going to continue to work with the National Resource Network.”

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