What? Unheard of to have two news roundups in one week! But this is a new year, so openness to change is a good thing, right? I promise we’ll get back on our once-a-week-on-Friday schedule next week, but I realized after Monday’s roundup that I had forgotten some important issues that needed to be addressed before next Friday. So here we go:
The proposed Threefoot Building project in Meridian, converting the Art Deco office tower to a hotel supporting the restored Grand Opera House, is “Dead . . . for now“, according to the Meridian Star. As you may recall from the Dec. 21 roundup, Meridian’s mayor and some council members had been getting nervous about the terms of the deal they had worked out with HRI, the development group from New Orleans that has finished up the King Edward Hotel and is working on converting the Art Deco Standard Life Building to apartments in downtown Jackson. The Meridian officials had promised to provided financial backing a $14 million loan to HRI by issuing bonds that the city would be responsible for if HRI failed to pay the loan back. According to the Star:
The New Orleans based developer — Historic Renovations sent the City of Meridian an e-mail Tuesday [Dec. 22, 2009] alerting them they were terminating their agreement with the city to renovate downtown Meridian’s Threefoot building into an upscale hotel.
Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry said she received the e-mail from HRI at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday saying they were “not moving forward with the Threefoot project.”
“As stated in the letter, the City and HRI will look down the road for future projects and possibly even resume the Threefoot Project under different circumstances and different finances,” Barry said in a prepared statement.
. . . .
[Council President Bobby] Smith said he was disappointed because recently he had renewed hope for the project. After recent meetings, Smith said there were “plenty” of private investors who committed to help fund the project, though he would not name them.
“Now we’re back at square one,” he said. “It just blows my mind. It kills you to know we had all this support and had all of this time and money invested in it and all it needed was [the mayor’s] support to continue to move forward.”
I don’t know what to say about any of this, except that the stars just don’t seem to be aligned right now. I hate to see projects die because of a lack of vision from a city’s leaders, but on the other hand, I know that city governments are struggling financially due to the drastic drop in sales taxes. I still believe the Threefoot will come back to life in the future, maybe even the near future, but it seems to me that the investors need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to increase the private investment so that the project doesn’t depend so heavily on the city’s backing.
Another article from mid-December (man, I really dropped the ball around Christmas, didn’t I?) gives us good news about the Bertie Rouse School in Picayune, “Arts Council leases Bertie Rouse School building to use as cultural and arts center.” The Bertie Rouse School, which was originally called East Side School, was built in 1928 and designed by N.W. Overstreet of Jackson and sport some early (for Mississippi) Art-Deco-ish details as well as a nice intact interior. The Picayune Arts Council has gotten a $50,000 from the MS Coast Community Foundation, and plans to use the money as a seed to raise more funds to restore the large building to serve as its headquarters. This sounds similar to the highly successful Mary C. O’Keefe center in Ocean Springs, housed in the beautiful and baroque old Ocean Springs High School.
Here’s a snippet from the article, which also has a little picture of the building:
Preliminary estimates on rehabilitating the structure, which is also known as the East Side School, run to more than $1 million, said Carolyn Terry, GPAC chairman.
Although historical information on the structure and site is sketchy, some local historians believe the site was the location of Picayune’s first school and that portions of that first school might have been incorporated into later additions and alterations of the current structure.
The building still retains its original heart-pine flooring, although it needs to be refurbished.
. . .
Officials said on Thursday they are determined to place the structure back into pristine condition, although it may take a long time to do so. They have to raise a lot of money and garner a lot of help from the community.
The vision that GPAC officials have for the facility includes housing centers for arts education, literary organizations, the performing arts, visual and literary arts and crafts.
Right now, officials say, Picayune On Stage theatre group, the Pearl River County Arts League, Picayune Writers’s Group, the community band and chorus, the historical society and other organizations need space for offices and a place to perform and show their art.
. . . .
There is a plaque inside the school that indicates that prior to 1907 there probably was another building there, since the plaque is headed “Alterations and additions.”
Under the heading are listed two dates: 1907 and 1928.
The metal plaque reads, “Alterations and additions. School Building. Aldermen 1907 M.A. Tate, H.D. Thames, C.E. Bilbo, E.J. Stockstill, J.B. Whitfield, J.L. Megehee Mayor. 1928 aldermen Edw. Rolands, E.M. Walker, L.N. Formby, A.A. Mitchell, N.B. Lane. Trustees (school board members) C. McDonald, J.B. Calvin, L.O. Crosby, W.H. Farrell, S.G. Thigpen. T.K. Boggan, Supt., schools, N.W. Overstreet architect, A.M. Tisdale, Builder.”
Word on the Street: I don’t see anything on the World Wide Web to confirm this yet, but I’ve heard that contrary to the story we covered in the Dec. 4, 2009 News Roundup, the University of Southern Mississippi now wants to demolish the 1921 Administration Building at its Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, rather than “restore” it as they said then. I had been dubious about this restoration talk, because USM has clearly wanted to demolish the building for a while (at least since 2007 as seen in this IHL site), according to some of my sources, even before Katrina. They’re now asking FEMA for permission to change their “restoration” to a “demolition and new build” project, and I think FEMA will now begin “consultation” as required in Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act. Normally this consultation process would involve the State Historic Preservation Office (in our case, that’s the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History), and any interested local parties.
The Admin Bldg. and Hardy Hall are the two original buildings left on this campus (Lloyd Hall was built a few years later, in 1926). I’ve seen all three buildings since Katrina and can say from a non-engineer perspective, the administration building seemed the least damaged of the bunch. It sits to the rear of the two front buildings and while it did take a punch from Katrina’s storm surge, at least it had walls left on its first floor, unlike either Hardy or Lloyd, which were stripped bare by the force of the water. We’ll keep our ears to the ground on this one because it looks to be shaping up for a fight.
Event Alert: For those of you who live in or around Jackson, next week’s History Is Lunch speaker is David Preziosi, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, who will talk about and show images of the new list of the 10 Most
Endangered Historic Places. History Is Lunch is a lunchtime lecture series sponsored by the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History. This week’s HIL takes place on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at noon, in the William Winter Archives Building at 200 North Street in downtown Jackson.