OUR VIEW: Time for private sector to ante up in Meridian

Dave Bohrer / The Meridian Star

Progressive Pipleline announced Thursday it would move its coroporate office to downtown Meridian, one of a few positive developments in the news in recent weeks.

Meridian is getting all dressed up, but where will the city go?

Are we the girl who buys the prom dress, the guy who orders the tux and then waits anxiously by the phone for someone to text and ask them to the prom?

The atmosphere here the last few weeks has been intoxicating.

As construction workers continued to rebuild the interior of the Threefoot Building and paving crews worked around the fringes of downtown streets, drawings were presented on what 22nd Avenue gateway could look like, the Mississippi Children’s Museum-Meridian held a ceremonial groundbreaking and the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors formally announced their intention to build a government complex at the Village Fair Mall site.

At the East Mississippi Development Corporation’s annual meeting Wednesday, RockStep Capital President Andy Weiner, with much hype, unveiled details about the arrival of Hype Indoor Adventures next spring and other plans that could revive the Bonita Lakes mall and nearby areas.

Later that morning, a few miles east off Interstate 20/59, the board of supervisors christened the Key Brothers Industrial Park and pronounced the 360-acre piece of prime land ready for commercial tenants that could provide potentially hundreds of jobs for the region.

Before the end of the day, Progressive Pipeline President Michael Castle Jr. revealed his plans to locate his company’s headquarters and 50 employees in the former Melton Hardware Building at 2201 Front St., across the street from the still glimmering Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience.

All of this is exceptionally exciting. Take a moment and pat yourself on the back, for along with private investment and donations, federal, state and local taxpayers have provided millions of dollars to get us to this point – and taxpayers will be asked to provide millions more.

During his presentation Wednesday, Weiner said RockStep would chip in 16 acres of land adjacent to the mall in the next year if Meridian and Lauderdale County moves forward to build a sports complex of 20 to 30 ballfields at an estimated cost of $30 million.

The promise being sports-minded families from around the Southeast would spend their weekends and their money in Lauderdale County as their children played ball.

We appreciate the cautious restraint of local leaders, who learned of the RockStep proposal at the same time as the rest of the EMBDC audience at the MSU-Riley Center.

County Administrator Chris Lafferty said the board of supervisors would be more interested in private investment in a sports complex, and Meridian Mayor Percy Bland said private investment would be needed to supplement any city or county dollars.

As reporter Erin Kelly noted in her reporting: Two months ago, the city passed a budget with more than $600,000 in cuts. Its Lakeview Municipal Golf Course is in danger of closing and a 19-year improvement program for Meridian’s wastewater system has an estimated pricetag of $127 million. Meanwhile, the county estimates that new government complex will cost $35 million.

Much has been asked of city and county residents to support these projects. We encourage continued community support and a spirit of optimism for the region’s future. That’s the way we will grow and stem the loss of population.

Glenn McCullough, the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, told the EMBDC audience: “It’s just a matter of time until we believe there will be a major new investment here in East Mississippi.”

We have heard that line for too many years.

We say before we commit many more public dollars to get ready for that promised date, it’s time for private investors to step up and recognize the value this community offers without demanding more taxpayer money.

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