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City considers improvements to historic downtown district

By By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
May 12, 2004
An important piece of the refurbishment of downtown Meridian could soon begin.
Meridian city councilmen unanimously voted Tuesday to give $25,000 to the Meridian Redevelopment Authority in conjunction with the revitalization of the African American Historic Business District.
The money originally was earmarked for the city's Main Street Division to fund a feasibility study for the area. But the money was freed when the John C. Stennis Institute of Government did its own study for the city.
The $25,000 now will be used to help purchase and renovate the Cohn Sheehan building, an important building in the district which includes parts of Fourth, Fifth and Sixth streets between 23rd and 26th avenues.
The mayor told city councilmen that they needed to give the Meridian Redevelopment Authority the money so it and others working to revamp the area could make commitments "representing that they have the money."
Smith said the redevelopment authority will also use a $122,000 grant to refurbish the Cohn Sheehan building.
The city council action comes about eight months after a group of architects from Mississippi State University, working with the John C. Stennis Institute of Government, were in Meridian to survey the area.
The African American Historic Business District was once a bustling area peppered with hotels, restaurants, retail stores, a movie theater, medical offices and many other black-owned businesses.
But today, most of the area has deteriorated, with old, decaying buildings the norm. Some of them are little more than brick frames with grass and weeds growing in the middle.
Pharmacies and retail stores that existed three decades ago have given way to a scattering of night clubs, barber shops and abandoned buildings.
The idea of improving the area, though, had to survive budget battles nearly two years ago when the city council cut thousands of dollars from proposed spending.
The $25,000 feasibility study for revitalization of the African American Historic Business District was originally cut and later added back.
Don Farrar, head of the city's Community Development Department, said the Stennis Institute study was important to boost the project.
Other Business
In other business during a special meeting Tuesday, Meridian city councilmen gave approval to the mayor to sign a grant application from the Meridian Public School District to fund a police officer to be assigned to city schools. Monday is the deadline to file the grant application with the U.S. Justice Department.