Meridian Honors History, Focuses on Future
New efforts to commemorate Meridian’s Civil War and Civil Rights history jibe with downtown Meridian’s redevelopment and growing economic vitality.
The enviable synergy between Meridian’s rich past and its promising future is creating a vibrant present.
“There’s excitement here in Meridian,” says Karen Rooney, Meridian Main Street executive director. “People realize something is happening here.”
To commemorate the area’s rich history and promote all-important historic and cultural tourism, on February 14, 2014 a city-county partnership unveiled a new Civil War Trail of 10 markers in Meridian, Marion and Lauderdale County designating significant historic sites. The event marked the 150th anniversary of Gen. W.T. Sherman’s destruction of Meridian. Soon, a trail marking the Civil Rights movement highlighting Meridian’s role in that struggle, will also be launched.
The Mississippi Blues Trail, the downtown Mississippi Walk of Fame, and the Country Music Trail also make walking through history a fascinating way to learn about Lauderdale County’s past.
Looking forward, Meridian is buzzing with numerous downtown development projects.
“We are always looking for ways our institution can interact with the Meridian community and enhance economic development in the area,” says Dean Steven Brown of Mississippi State University – Meridian, which has invested extensively in the city’s downtown.
Most recently, the school located its division of business in the renovated Newberry Building. Its campus also includes one of the city’s crown jewels, the MSU-Riley Center, a performance/conference venue that includes the historic Grand Opera House, and was built with a grant from the Riley Foundation. A Riley Foundation-funded major upgrade to the center’s electronic capabilities in 2014 will allow live broadcasts to anywhere in the world. And the foundation also donated the historic downtown Kress building to MSU for a new kinesiology department, anticipating the area’s growing medical community.
“We can see what the move to the Newberry Building has done for our business program and its increased relationship to Meridian’s business community, and we think the new department will do the same for our relationship with the medical community,” Brown says.
More Downtown Development
Other downtown projects are also creating a stir.
An MDOT-funded streetscape beautification and infrastructure improvement project is underway around 5th Street in Meridian, and several old buildings are being snapped up and renovated, among them the old Sears building, the Village Fair Mall and the venerable Threefoot Building.
Meridian Main Street’s year-round calendar, which includes a gala Mardi Gras celebration, a Kids Art Crawl, six weeks of Merry Meridian festivities in November and December, a weekly farmers market and Candy Crawl trick or treating draws the community downtown. That kind of energy prompts economic development, including in-demand residential.
“There’s a critical mass of activity downtown, and that’s catching the attention of developers,” Rooney says. “People are coming back to downtown, especially young people, who’d like to live downtown.”
Existing downtown housing units, like the prestigious Rosenbaum Condominiums, the first downtown residential, are all occupied, and the two-block Downtown Apartments on Fifth Street generally have waiting lists, Rooney says.
“There’s definitely a demand for more downtown residential, and developers are already submitting plans for condos and loft apartments. We’re hoping as MSU expands that developers will also build more housing for students.”