John Howell Sr. Editorial 9/29/2015

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Can’t call it the ‘Panola Express,’ but it sounds good

Alderman Bill Dugger was the first I heard in a slip of the tongue that will likely be repeated. Talking about the feverish preparations underway by Batesville Main Street, the Panola Partnership, city and county government and others for the arrival of the Polar Express Train Ride, Dugger called it the “Panola Express.”

He quickly corrected himself, but everyone in the city hall meeting room last Friday agreed that it had a good sound.

City officials were then gathered for the latest in a series of meetings they have been holding to make sure Batesville is ready to host this unusual and unexpected economic stimulus that we only just heard about at the end of June. Friday’s meeting  was primarily to create a loan program to assist businesses with small loans, interest-free for the first year, to be used for Polar Express preparations.

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Once most of the details of the loan program had been agreed on, assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell recapped it nicely: “This is an incentive for everybody to get behind this project and let’s make it work because we want it back. We’ve got one chance to make a good first impression…and get the same people who ride the train this year to come back and bring their friends.

“It’s really an incentive program to make this Polar Express work;” Mitchell continued, “and it’s kind of a trial program to see if this is something that the city needs to keep; it’s kind of an experiment.

What brought the Panola Express Train Ride to Batesville —Iowa Pacific Holdings President Ed Ellis told Mayor Jerry Autrey this when he first visited the mayor in June, introduced himself and then astounded the mayor with his announcement about bringing the Polar Express Train Ride here in November — is the appearance of the Public Square. The railroad runs through the center. There’s an attractive little depot building beside the tracks and a quaint, but viable commercial district surrounding it.

That appearance, once rather carelessly regarded, has for the last 40 years been carefully cultivated by many, many people with much of their latest effort coordinated through to Batesville Main Street.

The truth is, we’ve been getting ready for the Polar Express Train Ride for years. We just didn’t know what it was going to look like.