The City of Meridian announced plans in September to rebuild the Frank Cochran Center, which was damaged by fire in 2019.
However, council members agreed Nov. 16 that building a new structure would be better.
Bob Luke with LPK Architects told the council engineers had evaluated the burned building and come to the conclusion rebuilding wasn’t the best idea.
“After looking at it, we feel like it is probably not even going to work for most of the functions people use today,” he said. “It is an old building. She’s real tired.”
Luke said LPK had worked with Meridian Parks and Recreation Department to select a temporary softball field used by Meridian Community College as a better site for a redesigned, more modern Frank Cochran Center. The site, he said, was still within Highland Park but was better suited for the type of meeting facility council members envisioned.
“It’s a much better use of the real estate, and it’d also work better for this conference center type space,” he said.
The new center would also provide more space, Luke said. A drawback of the old center was that it only provided about 20,000 square feet, where many events that would be held there need about 30,000 square feet, he said.
The new plan calls for one 27,000 square foot space with two smaller spaces of 6,400 and 3,600 square feet. The smaller spaces could be used to house Parks and Recreation staff or utilized as break-out rooms for large meetings and events, Luke said.
Councilman George Thomas said he wanted the new design to take into account the interior of the building to optimize the facility for events. The previous center, he said, had space but lacked amenities.
“I don’t want just another metal shed,” he said.
The design of the new center is heavily influenced by the size and type of events that would be held in the space, Luke said. While the previous center was more of an empty space, the new structure would have more to offer.
Thomas said a good space capable of hosting large meetings and conferences is needed in Lauderdale County. A modern, versatile conference center would be an economic draw for the city, he said.
In September, the city council authorized plans to pursue a Community Development Block Grant through East Central Planning and Development District to rebuild the Frank Cochran Center. The city hoped to receive about $4 million, with the city providing a 20 percent match.
Under the new design approved by the council Tuesday, the city would need to receive about $6 million in CBDG funds. The city’s portion of the project would jump from about $800,000 to $1.2 million.
The city hopes to learn if its grant application was approved in early 2022.