Vicksburg — City officials want to trade their airport for a new industrial park.
Mayor Robert Walker said the City of Vicksburg has voted to close the Vicksburg Municipal Airport. Air services are available at the regional airport in Mounds, La. The decision to close the airport was challenged in court, and the Vicksburg Municipal Airport is continuing to operate until the lawsuit is settled.
“Once we get the site out of litigation, we are going to move fast with that as an industrial park,” Walker said. “The next big thing for us to do is to get more utilization out of our water resources. And we have some things on the table now to do that.”
Walker said the airport property is a mile and a half from the Mississippi River, but the city plans to either build a road from that property to a docking facility at the river, or build a slack water canal to provide water access to the industrial park.
“When we do that, it is going to take off,” Walker said.
Jimmy Ware, director of the Warren County Economic Development Foundation, said Vicksburg is out of industrial land that has access by rail. The Ceres Industrial Park doesn’t have rail. The Port of Vicksburg has rail, but all the property at the port is occupied. Rail is closely located to the city airport, and officials would like to have rail available to prospective new industries.
Ware said with a new marketing agreement between Kansas City Southern (KCS), Illinois Central and the Canadian National Railroad will make Vicksburg attractive for Mexican NAFTA trade.
“We feel with the KCS’ recent announcement about them buying some rail line in Mexico, Vicksburg would be well positioned with NAFTA to have direct access to the Mexican market via rail,” Ware said. “The airport property would give us some publicly owned land that has rail closely available.”
Ware said while it would take years to get the permits necessary to build a canal to the airport property, it would greatly enhance recruitment to have an industrial park with both rail and river access. “These are long-range plans, but I think we need to look to the future and plan for the future,” he said.
Cruisin’ Highway 61
to the Vicksburg port
Another transportation issue affecting the local economy is efforts to obtain state highway department funds to build a direct access road to the Port of Vicksburg off U.S. 61. Currently, about 300 to 500 trucks per day enter or leave the Port of Vicksburg, and many of the trucks go through the downtown area.
“For our tourists and gaming, we want to get the trucks out of downtown if at all possible,” Ware said. “The access road would save eight to 12 miles on the truck route to the port.”
Vicksburg is eligible for gaming corridor projects — highway developments funded by revenues from gaming. But currently the proposed access road is far down the priority list. Vicksburg officials are working to get the access road higher on the list.
Competing for conventions
The city is now seeing more tourists downtown due to the construction of the Vicksburg Convention Center. Meetings in Vicksburg have nearly doubled since the convention center opened in August 1997. From October to January, Vicksburg had 43 conventions, compared to 25 for the same time period in 1997.
“We always wanted to be competitive with other communities, not looking at size but being competitive with any community,” Walker said. “At one time, people would think of Vicksburg and see the military park and river and all that, but no place was adequate to have meetings for 500 to 1,500 people. We’ve got that now.”
The city is hoping to enhance the convention center even more by attracting a hotel development nearby. Lenore Barkley, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said having a hotel next to the convention center would be a major plus.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the convention center from meeting planners, and are hopeful we will have even more once we can get a hotel nearby,” Barkley said. “The convention center has given us a new option for meeting planners added to our hotels, the city auditorium and the Southern Cultural Heritage Complex. Also, we have several hotels with meeting space, some of our casinos have meeting space, and some of the bed and breakfasts have meeting space for smaller groups.”
Barkley said the new convention center makes it easier to attract their target-size conventions of about 350 people. The convention center can handle larger groups. The largest group handled so far was 1,400 people who attended a convention of the Mississippi Early Childhood Association. The target market for the convention center is a drive-in market within a four-hour drive from Vicksburg.
“Because we are centrally located in state, it allows us to draw from as far away as Tupelo and the Coast,” Barkley said. “A lot of the association groups that we target rotate to south, central and north parts of the state, and with us centrally located we are now able to be attractive to those types of groups.”
Pat Cato, executive director of Vicksburg Convention Center, said right now the types of groups targeted are those planning local and regional SMERF meetings. SMERF stands for Social/Military/Educational/Religious and Fraternity.
Plenty to do
Vicksburg has a lot to offer people attending conventions. There is the Vicksburg National Military Park, eight museums (including the Coca-Cola museum as Vicksburg was the first place where Coca-Cola was bottled), 24-hour gaming, a riverboat ride, tours of 13 area historic homes, an outlet mall and technical attractions such as tours of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station.
The historic downtown area has lots of antique shops, specialty stores and museums locating within walking distance.
Cato said conventions have a positive impact on the local economy, generating revenue for restaurants, hotels, cab drivers and local shops. The average overnight convention attendee spends $125 per day for a room, meals and attractions.