Officials are assessing when construction work can continue on the old Hinds County Armory on Jackson’s Mississippi State Fairgrounds.
The structure was damaged by fire July 2.
Work started earlier this year on replacing the Armory’s roof, in an effort to keep the inside protected from the elements and help preserve the inside of the historic building for possible future redevelopment.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded a $600,000 grant to the Mississippi State Fair Commission last year. The money was drawn from a recovery fund set up after Hurricane Katrina.
A preliminary investigation points to sparks generated by welders as the cause of the fire, said Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Cindy Hyde-Smith, whose department holds purview over the Fairgrounds. The investigation continues, she added.
Hyde-Smith said most of the damage was to the south end of the Armory, where the majority of the re-roofing work had been done.
“It’s just a hull of a building right now with no roof,” Hyde-Smith said. “On the south end, there was a partial roof and all of that was destroyed.”
The Armory was built in the 1920s, and once served as the city of Jackson’s city hall. It also once housed the Mississippi Adjutant General’s office. The Mississippi National Guard used it as a training facility for five decades. In the late 1980s, the building hosted a casting call for extras for “Mississippi Burning,” about the prosecution of Byron De La Beckwith for the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. The Armory was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1986, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. It remains the oldest still-standing armory in Mississippi.
The building’s deterioration began during the historic Easter Flood in 1979, when the swollen Pearl River put most of downtown Jackson and adjoining neighborhoods under water, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
Hyde-Smith said getting the Armory ready for redevelopment is part of her overall plan to spruce up the Fairgrounds, which includes a makeover for the Mississippi Coliseum.
Ideally, the Armory could serve as a sort of reception and banquet hall, she said. For that to happen, Hyde-Smith added, a partnership between the state and the private sector will have to be struck.
“We’re just trying to make improvements to open up our options in the future,” she said in a phone interview earlier this week.
If a public-private partnership isn’t struck, giving the Fair Commission the authority (and funding) to refurbish the Armory would be another option, Hyde-Smith said.
Hyde-Smith told the Mississippi Business Journal last year that the Armory is the first thing Fairgrounds patrons exiting off Jefferson see. That requires the building to look like a centerpiece, instead of an afterthought, she said. The $600,000 grant to replace the roof and clean out the inside of the Armory allows officials more time to secure additional funding for more work, she said last summer. An architectural firm determined last year that the Armory is structurally sound and is feasible to restore. Totally refurbishing the Armory would cost between $7 million and $10 million, Archives and History director Larry Holmes said last year.