MERIDIAN – When someone here brings up the “Highway 45 Growth Corridor,” for once, all of the community leadership is marching in lockstep to the beat of the
same drummer. Terms like “exciting,” “need it now” and “a mix found nowhere else in the Deep South” come tumbling out. Strangely, the genesis of that excitement
goes back to the area’s hilly topography.
As the community promotional literature has often said, “Meridian lies in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains…” meaning, among other things, it offers many
attractive home sites in the rolling hills. It also means there are a multitude of gullies and flood plains. That makes the location of large industrial sites a difficult task.
In 1997, Collins native Slater Barr took over as president of Meridian and Lauderdale County’s East Mississippi Business Development Corporation (EMBDC).
Experienced in economic development, he immediately recognized the area’s transportation and location strengths. Located on Interstates 20 and 59 at the junction of
two major railroads and with the longest airport runway in the state, the area is a natural for manufacturing and distribution facilities. But area growth had not matched
that of other locations with those advantages. The major reason became obvious.
“Even though we had several industrial parks, most of the remaining property in those parks was retarded by the topography or flood plains,” Barr says now. “This
had been looked at previously in two recent studies as probably one of the most significant issues that was constraining the growth of Meridian and Lauderdale
He drew up a presentation that showed growth in Meridian had been far exceeded by similarly located southeastern cities, primarily due to lack of large industrial sites.
Last year, one of the premier major economic development consultants, Fluor-Daniel of Greenville, S.C., was employed by the EMBDC to locate the most desirable
large tract of land suitable for an industrial park.
Before a sellout crowd of area civic and political leaders on June 20 this year, Fluor-Daniel representatives announced their recommendation: a 611-acre site east of
Meridian, the core of which is known as “The Malone Ranch.” Only 100 acres of the property falls victim to the area’s topography problems leaving 511 acres for
The recommended site takes advantage of all of Meridian’s transportation strengths. It’s bounded by Interstate 20/59 on the south, U. S. 45 on the west, U.S.
Highways 11/80 on the north and is adjacent to Norfolk Southern’s main New York-New Orleans rail line. The Meridian Regional Airport is 15 minutes away.
The new site will be the foundation of the Highway 45 Growth Corridor which will include the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Industrial Park on the north, the Great
South Commercial/Industrial Park on the east and the Bonita Lakes Mall and recreation area on the south and west. But the new site will require some heavy lifting
and some real teamwork.
That lifting will include the purchase of the property, extension of water and sewerage and constructing an interchange to provide direct access to Highway 45’s four
lanes. The only current access is via two-lane U.S. 11/80.
Hank Florey, president of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, said that the county has already agreed to issue $4.25 million in bonds which will more than
pay off the estimated $3.9 million purchase price. That will require a .85 mill county property tax for 15 years to pay off the bonds.
Florey is effusive over the project.
“I’m just real excited and enthused about it,” he said. “We were just about out of land for industrial development. Without this new property, we just couldn’t compete
with other cities in the region.”
Extending the water and sewerage to the property will be Meridian’s responsibility, and Mayor John Robert Smith says that’s part of the city’s master plan.
“(Most of) this area was annexed into the city several years ago,” Smith said. “We have committed to the EMBDC to provide the water and sewer. We can do that in
relatively short order, and the City Council will provide the financing mechanism.”
An application to the Economic Development Administration has already been made for a portion of the funding according to Smith.
Everyone agrees that probably the most difficult “opportunity” will be the construction of the direct access interchange from U.S. 45 to U.S. 11/80. The interchange
will have to contend with the Norfolk Southern main line track. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has already assisted in preparing the interchange’s
engineering study that will eliminate any grade crossings. The estimated cost is $7.5 million.
There’s a possibility of federal and state financial assistance for the interchange, especially if a nice, big $50-million industry should commit to locating on the new site.
That would fulfill everyone’s dreams.
The only opposition to the new site was an abortive petition to require a vote for the county to issue the bonds – it quietly fizzled.
Glen Deweese, the CEO of Super Stop and newly-elected chairman of the EMBDC, was asked if he expected the county to receive a return on the $3.9-million
purchase price. “Absolutely,” he said emphatically. “This community needs to be doing something no one else is, and this site, with all of its transportation facilities, will
enable us to get into intermodal freight which will be ideal for us.”
Mayor Smith sees the corridor offering something for everyone and all within a few minutes’ drive.
“Bonita Lakes Mall and the new Wal-Mart Super Store complex takes care of the retail, we have the Bonita Lakes recreation area, and then we anticipate the
development of an upscale retirement community in the Long Creek area,” Smith said. “We will have a mix you won’t find in any other community in the Deep South.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at email@example.com or (601) 364-1018.