city capital improvements

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

City considers capital improvements

By John Howell
Batesville city officials considered two major capital improvements during meetings Tuesday — renovating and upgrading city hall and construction of a railroad depot.
The board of mayor and aldermen opened with a work session at 1 p.m. to see architect Maggie Bjorgum of Belinda Stewart Architects, PA present two possible options for city hall renovations.
City officials reconvened at 5 p.m. with the officers and directors of the Panola Partnership to discuss feasibility of a joint project to build a depot at the site of earlier railside structures.
 Bjorgum showed two options to provide a starting point for discussion on city hall renovation. Option One is a complete interior renovation that would create a large meeting room on the west wing of the existing facility by relocating the police court clerk’s office, the mayor’s and city clerk’s office. The architect placed a cost estimate of $450,000 to $500,000 for the first option.
Bjorgum said Option Two, based on “what is the least amount you could do,” would renovate the existing boardroom replace flooring and repaint the facility. She estimated its cost at $250,000 to $300,000.
Both options include exterior renovations and upgrading restrooms and other features like doorways to make the building accessible to wheelchairs.
Funding through a Small Municipalities Grant might be available to help bring the facility into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), she said.
“That’s your ticket to apply for a grant,” she said.
“Are you a Certified Local Government (CLG)?” Bjorgum asked, referring to criteria establish through the Mississippi Dept. of Archives and History (MDAH).
“We’re working on it,” Alderman Eddie Nabors replied.
“So you could apply for a community heritage grant,” Bjorgum said.
Bjorgum’s boss, Belinda Stewart, in 2009 recommended that the city pursue MDAH certification. Steps include adopting an MDAH-approved preservation ordinance and establishing a historic preservation board. City efforts stalled when a sufficient number of people could not be located to serve on the board.
Eight members of the Panola Partnership’s board of directors along with CEO Sonny Simmons, Batesville Main Street Manager Colleen Clark and Economic Development Assistant Meredith Fleming joined the mayor and aldermen for the late-afternoon discussion of depot feasibility.
Simmons spoke initially, talking about the downtown improvements to buildings spurred by the 2015 arrival of the Polar Express and the city’s project to improve the public areas of the Square’s parking, traffic flow, lighting and sidewalks.
“We’ve all talked kind of informally about what our vision would be to have an independent (Panola Partnership) office like that and all, according to my understanding, are pretty well in agreement that it should be something like an old-timey depot,” Simmons said.
“There’s a lot of nostalgic value to it; I think it would be of interest to our visitors, especially since the Mound Trail has taken off so well,” Simmons said. “That’s growing and that’s going to continue to bring traffic off the interstate highway. If we had something downtown, something like this and maybe incorporate a small area of it as a museum.”
“People who are historians  and get off for this Mound project would love to come downtown and see something similar to that,” he continued. Other possible features could include a community room large enough to rent for small gatherings.
The Partnership executive’s remarks prompted discussion that included cost questions and other possible uses, including seasonal rental space for Polar Express.
Mayor Jerry Autrey asked if the Partnership would be willing to pay monthly pay rent for the office space it seeks in the proposed structure.
“I think it would be a joint effort, an equal an joint investment. We could share revenues off the rental space,” Simmons said.
“I don’t think the intent was ever for the Partnership to pay rent,” Partnership director Gary Kornegay said later in the meeting. “We’ve talked about it and talked about it — about needing a facility, then we said ‘Why can’t we make it in conjunction with the city; the city possibly wants to do something, so then we got to talking about an old-depot-style building that would make a community room for whatever organization you wanted to lease to or the city to use or whatever,’” he continued.
“It’s best to get the questions out,” Autrey said. “I like to get it all our in front; what we intend to do. That’s what this meeting’s for, the mayor said.
“I think right now we’re just in the conversation stages of deciding we want to structure it as far as finances are concerned … Of course what architect to get involved to give us some more accurate figures on what it may cost to construct a building like that; maybe do some renderings like she did for you guys for city hall” Simmons said.
“I’d like to know what the footprint would handle over there,” Alderman Eddie Nabors said.
“We’re also talking about the street, maybe having to do away with that street right there to make it wider,” Mayor Jerry Autrey said, referring to the section of Broadway that is parallel to the railroad ends at the termini of both Broadway and Eureka Streets.
“You could go up and we could have our offices upstairs and have a working area underneath that we can lease out for events or let the Polar Express use, however we see fit as a group,” Partnership director Joe Azar said.
Examples of renovated depots discussed included buildings in Grenada, Oxford and Collins.
“I like the one in Collins; …it’s impressive; it’s nice,” Alderman Ted Stewart said.
“We got blessed with this Polar Express,” Alderman Stan Harrison said. “I just like the thought of the depot and the Polar Express, somehow. I just want to make sure they stay here for a long, long time.
“If we’re going to something I want to lean heavily to something they like. Maybe we need to get some of their people in here to sit down with us to and see what we can work together with them,” Harrison contineud. “You talk about generating money, they generate money in six weeks than we can generate in 20 years renting a building out.
“To do an initial study cost $5,000 with them (Belinda Stewart Architects); that’s what we had to pay,” the mayor said, for the study that produced the renovation options for city hall remodeling. “Would y’all be willing to split that?” he asked.
“She’s got to have some idea of what we want,” Nabors said.
The city officials and Partnership directors agreed to form a joint committee to develop specifications; assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell said that he and Partnership attorney Ryan Revere would determine land ownership. The group also agreed to meet again at Batesville’s August 16 meeting of the mayor and aldermen at 4:30 p.m.
All city elected officials, including Bill Dugger and Teddy Morrow in addition to Autrey, Nabors, Harrison and Stewart, attended both meeting.
Partnership directors and employees, in addition to Azar,  Kornegay, Revere, Clark, Fleming and Simmons, who joined at 5 p.m., were Brad Robison, Roy Girner, Kelley Magee, Nick Bergeron and Blake Shipp.

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