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Private sector joining public efforts key to revitalization

HATTIESBURG — About 20 years ago the City of Hattiesburg spent a lot of money renovating downtown facilities such as City Hall and the Jackie Dole Sherrill Community Center. It was hoped the government taking the lead role would help spur private re-investment that would revitalize downtown.

But the city and later county reinvestments in downtown buildings and other facilities such as a parking garage alone weren’t enough. The effort stagnated, and many buildings remained empty shells.

Today, though, the much hoped for revitalization of downtown is no longer just on the drawing board of wishful planners. Instead, the downtown area has a significant number of new business developments ranging from restaurants and retail outlets to upper-level apartments.

Bernice Linton, executive director, Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association, said a strategic plan was developed for downtown two years ago.

“We have stayed on the plan and accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do with revitalization of buildings primarily because the private sector has come on board with us,” Linton said. “The city cannot do it all by itself. That is the difference why revitalization is successful now, whereas in the past it got stagnated.”

The Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association is a private, non-profit board dedicated to preserving and enhancing the downtown area by working with government and private businesses. One recent city-sponsored program that aided the effort was a program to redo the building facades of eight downtown buildings. Linton said while the program didn’t pay all the costs, it was a good incentive that also showed community support for the project.

Linda McMurtrey, historic preservation planner for the City of Hattiesburg, said in addition to the success from following the strategic plan for downtown, Hattiesburg has also benefited from participating in the “tried and true” Mississippi Main Street program.

A major new project that is generating a lot of excitement is the McElroy family’s purchase of a number of properties on Walnut and Main streets, including the old employment office building.

“It was non descript,” McMurtrey said. “Now it is an exciting place called Walnut Square that includes a pharmacy that services nursing homes and will have some retail, as well. Walnut Square will be landscaped to connect to the Town Square Park that was built about six years ago. On the other side of Walnut Street some buildings have been taken out, and the plan is for a development with retail on the ground floors and residents on the second floor.”

The McElroy’s Hattiesburg Medical Park (HMP) Management Corp. has purchased several buildings in the area, and is building four new buildings and renovating others including the old Sid’s Caf

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