John Howell Sr. 2/1/13

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2013

Input sought for city plans to change downtown Square

If you have an interest in the downtown Batesville Square — a vested interest with money at stake or an emotional attachment to the Square as our central historic and cultural venue — then you should attend next Tuesday’s meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Batesville City Hall.

City leaders and their engineer are seeking input on how best to use about $400,000, most of it from Mississippi Department of Transportation funds, to improve the Square.

Without really trying I have overheard discussed many different ideas, some of them mutually exclusive. It’s apparent that everybody is not going to get what they want from this.

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And when you consider the money, $400,000 is a limited sum soon spent. We need to use it as wisely as we can.

But although much of Batesville’s retail business has left the Square in an effort to gain better positions nearest the main arteries of vehicle transportation further east, there is still a heavy volume of vehicle traffic through the Batesville Square. That’s not likely to change with our street and rail arrangement as it is. Traffic funnels through the Square to get from one side of the railroad tracks to the other.

Also consider that within recent weeks, Dr. Billy Haire has relocated his General Practice Clinic to the Square, renovating and remodeling this historic Robison building in the process.

Now comes word that his wife, Maribeth Haire will remodel the building next door for Square Arts. She is making lots of plans for her April opening that we’ll soon hear more about.

And Wednesday Stephen Whatley told me that in March he’ll move his Edward Jones Investments office to the Square into the Polk and Company building that until 1966 housed The Panolian.

These are reliable indicators that the Square is changing, not dying. The economy in Batesville is strong enough to support continued occupancy of its downtown buildings if they are appropriately utilized. A healthy future for the Square includes a mix of professionals, boutiques and specialty shops along with retail.

That said, there is another reason that people with interest in downtown should attend Tuesday’s meeting: we’ve been down this road before and when it was finished we were not happy with it. In fact, we’re still unhappy.