Meridian Master Plan: Architect shows city council final vision for downtown; No estimates on cost, impact

Submitted photo 

LPK Architects' master plan for Meridian includes improvements to 22nd Avenue.

In order to reach a destination, it’s important to know where we’re going.

In that sense, establishing a city master plan was an important step for the city of Meridian.

Architect Bob Luke outlined a master plan to the city on Monday that has a mixture of grand ideas, such as reshaping the area around City Hall and west into the historic African-American District, and smaller ideas such as coordinating traffic lights and better signage.

We are troubled, however, that the city agreed to pay $93,500 for the plan when it was commissioned in December 2016, but the result doesn’t indicate how much it would cost taxpayers to act on any of the ideas.

Nor does it, as Councilman Weston Lindemann pointed out, offer an impact analysis — an assessment of how changes would affect downtown economically.

That means taxpayers face additional costs if council and the administration requests Luke or another architect to flesh out the plan, and those costs would come without knowing the clear economic benefit of the action.

By contrast, Belinda Stewart Architects produced a $75,000 Lauderdale County Courthouse Feasibility Study in December 2016 for the Board of Supervisors that listed numerous scenarios, timelines, cost estimates and pros and cons for each specific idea.

Additionally, we are troubled by the city’s and county’s reliance on personal service contracts, rather than putting projects such as the master plan and the courthouse out to competitive bids.

No offense to Mr. Luke, who we’re confident would like to see this community succeed, but we believe the public benefits from competitive bidding both economically and creatively. Competition makes us all sharper.

Looking to the future, the city and county should resist the temptation to use an open-checkbook approach, no matter whether the vendor is the one we’ve always used.

But we’ve paid for this plan so now what?

We would all like the beach house, mountain cabin, world cruise, SUV, luxury car and the sports car, just for fun, but sanity dictates we pave the driveway, paint the trim and trim the hedges.

We recommend focusing on immediate needs, such as the 22nd Avenue gateway project, and paving streets first, and then shore up the “low-hanging projects” that can be done at budget cost.

Save the big-ticket items for the day those big investors finally arrive in town.

We can all agree, every effort must be made to focus on the city’s future. So this latest of master plans should not be filed away and forgotten like the plans that came before it.

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