Grow Meridian… Team targets housing, education, image, economic development

By Staff
DOWNTOWN RENOVATION The old Fifth Street building is currently undergoing a facelift and major renovation and will soon look as pristine as these Front Street historical apartments. Photo by Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
April 10, 2001
The 14-member team was appointed by Mayor John Robert Smith in November to address a declining population and shrinking tax base. Its report targeted four major areas and made a number of recommendations in each.
The strategies were unveiled today by the team's chairman, Bill Crawford, and other members at Union Station.
A sketch of the strategies announced today:
Housing
– "The city should employ a development specialist who will be entrepreneurial and aggressive in seeking opportunities for housing development."
The specialist should find "innovative funding sources" and foster relationships between public and private entities to spark new growth areas, according to the report.
Moderate and upper income subdivisions should be developed through public/private partnerships at Bonita/Long Creek Lakes, in addition to any retirement community developed at Bonita/Long Creek Lakes.
New attitudes, incentives and polices should be adopted, encouraging residential, commercial and industrial development, the report said.
The team also recommended the city's Community Development Department become more citizen-friendly in its practices. The team suggested revamping some existing building codes and ordinances to make them more understandable and concise for developers. Local developers have long complained city codes and ordinances are often too restrictive.
Education
– "The Meridian Public School District shall creatively and aggressively pursue school-related opportunities to attract new residents to the city."
The report said more aggressive tactics are needed to achieve immediate impact in the quality of schools, and in the minds of parents. It suggested the school district explore building new schools to support revitalization of older neighborhoods and development of new subdivisions.
It suggested a "high demand magnet school" could support job opportunities from targeted economic growth.
Quality of life, image
– "Improve the gateways to the city to make good first impressions and consistently clean-up and beautify the city."
The team suggested that a unifying theme for the city's gateways would be more appealing to visitors, inviting them to explore the city.
In order to bolster quality of life for children, the team suggested the city look at the possibility of expanding after-school programs and child-care facilities.
Economic development
– "Recruit more high paying jobs to attract new residents."
Recognizing that growth is dependent upon new jobs and new opportunities, the team noted that health-related jobs are projected to be among the fastest growing sectors in the national economy.
Performing arts jobs should increase as Grand Opera House renovation and the Southern Arts and Entertainment Center become realities.
The report also suggested the city develop a strong retiree recruitment program that works in coordination with area medical facilities and new housing developments.
The Grow Meridian Team was assisted by a faculty support team from Mississippi State University. Funding was provided by the Riley Foundation through a grant to Meridian Community College.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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