More than 150,000 new visitors annually are projected to arrive in downtown Meridian, beginning in six weeks when the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience opens its doors.
The vast majority will exit the interstates and drive along a washboard-like 22nd Avenue, passing a long deserted mall, a number of empty buildings and tired business fronts.
We are granted only one first impression and as beautiful as The Max will be and downtown Meridian is becoming, we fail ourselves with the city’s gateway and that first mile.
If those visitors are to return, or more importantly to spread encouraging words about The Max and Meridian, it is imperative we all do better.
If approved, a Transportation Alternatives Program $1.6 million grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation, with a local match of $418,025 from the city, will scratch some of the itch for enhancing the 22nd Avenue corridor into the city.
There is so much work to be done to improve the image of Meridian, however, that government grants alone won’t solve the problem.
We are calling for a solution that requires all of us — government, businesses, civic groups, churches and individual citizens — to commit to our pride in the visual appearance of Meridian, starting with our gateway.
We sense a limited vision and a contentment with the status quo. We seek leadership to inspire all of us to move forward. Action needs to follow words.
In a report today in The Meridian Star, city leaders and others shared their thoughts on the 22nd Avenue corridor. That’s a start.
We took some time to add our own blue-sky ideas, a mix starting small with immediate cosmetic suggestions and finishing with bigger dreams:
• Start with simple groundskeeping: Plant flowers, trim trees and shrubs on the interstate and along 22nd Avenue. Could a corporate sponsor, say Van Zyverden, be coaxed into planting tulips at the gateway? In exchange, it could add a nice sign noting its pride in its home city.
• Encourage other businesses, groups and churches, small and large, to adopt segments of 22nd Avenue for beatification, allowing for attractive plaques to note their volunteerism.
• Add a welcome to Meridian sign. Other smaller communities such as Forest and Morton have created landscape greetings on the interstate. While we’re volunteering local business sponsors, maybe Mitchell Signs could imagine an innovative idea for our gateway to the city.
• Pave 22nd Avenue using the $7.5 million pieces of equipment purchased last year. We would think this section would have been a priority ahead of The Max opening.
• 22nd Avenue is known as Sela Ward Parkway. Could her image be included in that welcome sign? Or maybe Jimmie Rodgers and other notable natives could be added, too, welcoming visitors to their hometown? Maybe images of Max Hall of Fame members could be added along the route.
• Replace the light poles. Could the lights be fashioned in the shapes of Coca-Cola bottles? Ah, another potential local business sponsor. Or maybe there is a simpler approach, paying for the new poles by allowing for business sponsorship banners to hang from each pole on the way up the avenue.
• Spruce up the bridge to Front Street, maybe adding flags or carousel horses to lead visitors into the city.
The gateway’s most significant problem, however, is the old Value Fair Mall, deserted and dead for more than 20 years.
We would like to see it demolished and replaced by green space until new plans are in place. The empty space will inspire new ideas more than the remnants of what has been.
While some leaders and residents may be stuck in the belief that only retail will work here, we favor commercial recreation/entertainment, something that invites drivers to pull off the highway.
Our blue sky ideas include a modern movie theater complex; a golf driving range; mini-golf; batting cages; a go-cart track; dreaming big — a minor league ballpark; or smaller — baseball, softball or soccer fields. Maybe all circled by by a walking or running trail.
Our ideas may not work, but we hope they inspire you to share your own vision for our city.
Our point is, we all need to have a pride in the appearance of our community.
Meridian’s good ole days shouldn’t be our best days. Those should lie ahead.