Pascagoula — The groundbreaking for Merchants & Marine Bank’s new facility adds momentum to the city’s continuing revitalization of the downtown area. Located at the corner of Pascagoula and Jackson streets, the county’s only locally-owned bank — known as M&M Bank — decided to construct its new 40,000-square-foot building in the heart of downtown rather than locate elsewhere.
Royce Cumbest, bank president and CEO, said the multi-million dollar project expresses confidence in the downtown area. “Banking is still a people business,” he said.
“We have a commitment to people in this area and will continue with that philosophy. It’s more than just a building, more than just a facility to serve our needs. This is our home.”
When the new facility is complete farther east on the property, the old building will come down and an open green space with plantings and trees will take its place. Cumbest says that’s what everyone is the most excited about.
“It will be a park-like setting that will lend itself to outdoor events and activities,” he said. “We want the public to enjoy it.”
Cumbest credits bank board member Jerry St. Pé with the park idea. St. Pé, a board member since 1980, says it was a joint decision by everyone involved with the bank.
“It was a major decision to dedicate a big part of the bank’s footprint to a park for everyone to enjoy,” he said. “It will represent a major focal point of the downtown area.”
St. Pé feels the green space and the building with its slate roof, wrought-iron balconies, operable hurricane shutters, brick and stucco exterior and coastal design are people friendly and will be an extraordinary addition to the community. It will also reflect the culture and history of the area.
Cumbest said there was no question about moving the complete facility for the 72-year-old bank. However, they could have located some of the bank’s operations elsewhere or built a metal building with a brick façade.
“We wanted something nice for our customers and we had a larger need for electronics,” he said. “Our building had been renovated twice, and we were advised by engineers to build something new and bring it up to speed.”
Joe Stout is chairman of the Pascagoula Main Street Board, and his family has been in business there since 1923. The owner of Bargain Annex said, “Faith in the future gives you power in the present, and I feel that M&M Bank puts a huge faith in the future of Pascagoula’s downtown. They would not spend money to be here if they didn’t think it was a good investment.”
He believes downtown is still the heart of business in Jackson County, and the new building and park will be the perfect compliment to everything the Main Street program is doing.
Another milestone for city, county
Jackson County Chamber of Commerce president Carla Todd says the groundbreaking represents another milestone for the city and county. It coincides with the chamber’s vision to make the county a more attractive place to live, do business and raise children.
“M&M Bank’s expansion is very much a part of that vision,” she said. “Everyone seems focused on the same ideals for downtown, and I would like to see a continuation of the progress that’s been made in the last six months to a year.”
A part of that progress was last year’s removal of a 27-year-old fiberglass and wooden canopy over Delmas Avenue. Removing the canopy made the Pascagoula River, sky and trees visible and connected the waterfront to downtown.
‘Breath of fresh air’
“It was like a breath of fresh air,” Stout said. “Many of my customers say they like being able to see a lot of sky and the big trees.”
Brick pavers, planters and decorative lighting have also been added. Rebecca Davis, director of the Main Street program, said removing the canopy was transforming and began the revitalization. “We’re rediscovering some of the history of these old buildings and seeing parts that were hidden,” she said. “Things are changing and we have a lot going on.”
Murals will soon be unveiled on the Canty Street side of Bargain Annex, Davis said. The series of paintings are called “from canoes to ships through history and progress” and portray the shipbuilding industry and Chevron Pascagoula Refinery. Twelve murals, painted by members of the Singing River Art Association, are complete and will go on the building’s blank exterior walls.
Stout said, “I think the murals will be something people will drive by to see. They will add a lot to downtown.”
Davis also said Scranton’s Restaurant, a downtown landmark, has put up balconies and a new door.
Pascagoula is the county seat of Jackson County, and with a population of 26,200 is the county’s largest municipality.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.