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Funding in place; design phase should begin this fall

Long-awaited telecom center moving along quickly

JACKSON — When the Mississippi bond commission approved expediting the $17.5-million telecommunications conference and training center less than a week before the mayoral primaries, many people wondered if it was a political ploy.

But barely more than a month after Harvey Johnson Jr. won the bid for a second term as the mayor of Jackson, defeating Republican C. Daryl Neely in the June 5 general election, officials of the Mississippi Telecommunications Conference and Training Center Commission announced the construction team for the center.

“We’re serious about moving forward,” said Michael J. Malouf, vice chairman of the telecommunications commission.

On July 16, the commission announced that a Jackson-based architectural firm, Dale and Associates, had been awarded the contract for the design on the planned 74,000-square-foot center to be located in downtown Jackson.

“I think this center will clearly be equal to the one in Austin, Texas,” said Angeline Dvorak, Ph.D., president of Mississippi Tech Alliance (MTA). “In fact, we will have an advantage because ours will be newer, therefore, more high tech. Dale and Associates has hired a major consultant that worked on the Austin center, bringing even more experienced, phenomenal talent together to work on the project.”

The design, which will include high-tech conferencing centers such as conference rooms, learning labs and theatre spaces, will require the involvement of public/private, state and local advisors, such as Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA), CIT.ms, universities, medical centers and the state’s industrial development partners.

“A conference center can have many different uses. Do we want one big room for 2,000 or many smaller rooms for a hundred or so each? That’s why we’re working with many different people from various industries to determine that, and we should have that decided in the next 60 days.

Once the programming is complete, we’ll start having the plans drawn,” said Malouf.

The funding for the building, which will eventually be owned by the state, is already in place, Malouf said.

“The Legislature authorized $17.5 million in bonds to be sold, but that won’t be done until the last minute to avoid paying interest,” he said. “We’ll get different draws as needed instead of doing it all at once.”

Malouf said there are no commitments from local telecom companies yet, but telecommunications commission members anticipate many telecom groups will use the center as a home base for meetings, conferences and training rather than maintaining a permanent presence.

“Mississippi has built a reputation as being the home for telecommunications and we’re trying to emphasize that and have people think of Jackson and Mississippi when they think of telecommunications,” he said.

Malouf said the city has enough land adjacent to the center to later build a convention center.

“We realize that a conference center alone would not draw enough people for an event that a conference/convention center would,” he said.

William M. “Billy” Mounger II, chairman of CIT.ms and chairman of TeleCorp PSC, said there are very few places in other cities around the country that will offer the kind of modern facilities the new center will provide.

“We need a design that will provide a conducive place for meetings and for making presentations with advanced technology,” Mounger said. “It’s something we currently lack in Jackson.”

Global access will be the heart of the design, Dvorak said. “The concept is to open Mississippi to the world and the world to Mississippi. It will be such a valuable tool from an educational perspective and to showcase Mississippi companies and technologies.”

Johnson said, “We are very pleased that this project has reached this point. It is a clear indication that there is a strong commitment on the part of the State of Mississippi, the City of Jackson and the telecommunications commission to see this project come to fruition. This is a major step. This is going to provide a high-tech facility that is needed in our state. It is also going to help in the revitalization that is going on in downtown Jackson.”

The Mississippi Telecommunications Conference Center Team is: Dale and Associates Architects, P.A. of Jackson; Arquitectonica of Miami, Fla.; Conventional Wisdom of Orlando, Fla.; Charles H. Johnson Consulting Inc., economic analysts; Michael Hall of Austin, Texas, technical consultants; Structural Design Group of Nashville, Tenn., structural engineers; Newcomb & Boyd of Atlanta, acoustics engineers; CivilTech Inc. of Jackson, civil engineers; Pickering Inc. of Jackson, environmental engineers; Fisher & Associates Inc. of Memphis, food service consultants.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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