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Meridian chosen for arts center

By Staff
SELECTION  Mayor John Robert Smith, left, is presented with a letter from Paul Ott informing him that Meridian has been selected as the site for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. Photo by Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Dec. 21, 2000
Meridian lost the first round in the battle for a proposed Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center to Jackson in April, but took round two Wednesday as the selection committee reversed its earlier choice.
Paul Ott, chairman of the committee, gave Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith the good news Wednesday afternoon but also voiced reservations about how construction of the $35 million facility would be funded.
City officials were first contacted about presenting Meridian as a possible site in October 1999. Smith said his team never gave up the effort, even when a Stennis Institute recommendation swayed the committee to name Jackson as the site.
Smith said he was surprised on Wednesday to hear that Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Lester Spell Jr. had requested a meeting. His questions gave way to exhilaration as Spell and Ott presented him with a letter announcing Meridian as the site for the center.
Ott commented on the selection process.
Ott said committee members gave Jackson officials a Dec. 15 deadline to propose a site for the center. When city officials failed to propose one acceptable to everyone, the selection committee unanimously voted to award the facility to Meridian.
The center was originally billed as a state-funded project, but Ott said other revenue sources may have to be tapped for its construction and operation.
The center could eventually support itself, Ott speculated, without financial backing from the state.
Ott said members of his committee "swooned" when they saw the Bonita Lakes site.
City leaders lobbied legislators with a weekend retreat to Meridian in October. Smith said the effort paid off when several lawmakers "encouraged" members of the selection committee to consider Meridian.
The mayor pledged that the city would be a good custodian for the state's art center and said it could rise to "national significance."
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at