Supervisors approve another $1 million
for Riley Center

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Dec. 16, 2003
Lauderdale County supervisors voted Monday to add another $1 million to its contribution for Mississippi State University's Riley Education and Performing Arts Center project.
The 4-1 vote, in which Supervisor Ray Boswell cast the lone "no" vote, came after a public hearing that attracted more than 50 citizens. Supervisors limited people to three minutes each; 13 people spoke.
Seven people said they were against the supervisors amending the county's contribution to the project through urban renewal bonds from $3 million to $4 million.
The project involves the renovation of three adjoining buildings downtown. One of the first people who spoke in favor of the additional money for the project was M.F. Kahlmus, a retired banker.
He said the county invested about $2 million for that project.
Residents speak
Plans include renovation of the Grand Opera House, classroom space and conference space.
Others who urged supervisors to commit to the additional $1 million included Guy Purvis, one of the people who donated the Newberry building to the project, which is scheduled to be renovated with the additional county money.
Also supporting it were Allan Stewart, president of BankPlus and chairman of the downtown development committee of the East Mississippi Business and Development Corp.; Ralph Morgan, a local businessman; and Margaret Remy, local businesswoman who was president of the opera house board and sought to have the property renovated for several years.
Citizens who spoke out against the proposal cited other needs they felt the county should fund first, including the recruiting of industry; repairing roads and bridges, drainage and schools; and developing space to house the mentally ill while they wait to be placed in the East Mississippi State Hospital.
Those who opposed the $1 million increase included Ernest Smith, a Meridian High School teacher, and Ikie Ethridge, a former Lauderdale County school superintendent and county supervisor.
Boswell, District 5 supervisor, said he supported the original $3 million request from MSU. But he said there are other needs that should be addressed.
He said he loves MSU-Meridian Campus, but the board could not afford to increase its donation.
District 2 Supervisor Jimmie Smith called the county's contribution an investment in the future.
District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood said the county is already seeing a return on its investment. District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey said the majority of his constituents are for the project.
District 3 Supervisor and board of supervisors president Craig Hitt, said he appreciated the response from the public which he called "one of the better turnouts we've had since I've been on the board."