BILL CRAWFORD: Restoration spurs renewal in East Mississippi

By Bill Crawford

Choctaw tribal chief Phyliss Anderson restored and reopened Phillip M’s at the Pearl River Resort last week. She also signaled her intent to renew the economic policies so successfully implemented by the restaurant’s namesake.
“Under the visionary leadership of our late Chief Phillip Martin, our tribe realized great progress and today I am proud to honor his legacy with the re-opening of Phillip M’s,” said Anderson, flanked by members of Martin’s family.
“Our tribe has realized the greatness that began in 1994 was a true and real beginning of true and honest Choctaw self determination,” she continued. “That’s the milestone we reached, and if it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have reached that.”
Martin was credited with vastly improving the economic standing of the tribe by bringing wiring harness factories, plastic molding enterprises, two casinos, and world class golf courses to the 30,000 acre reservation in Neshoba County.
Just down the road, another renewal is occurring, the restoration of the once prominent downtown in Meridian.
Earlier this month Mississippi State University completed its second major restoration project in the downtown core. The MSU-Meridian business school began classes in the renovated Newberry Building, next door to MSU’s Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts.
“I think it’s going to greatly enhance our ability to grow all of our business programs here in downtown Meridian and attract more students,” said MSU President Mark Keenum of the $6 million project funded by The Riley Foundation. “That’s what we’re about. We want to grow our enrollment here in Meridian.”
The restoration of this central block of downtown Meridian has one more phase to go. MSU and The Riley Foundation, again, have joined forces to renovate the architecturally significant Kress Building. Keenum hopes it will house a new baccalaureate nursing program. With help from The Phil Hardin Foundation, a university library will connect the first floors of the adjacent Kress and Newberry Buildings.
This week, Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry holds an open house celebrating the completion of the city’s $18 million restoration of its “Beaux Arts style” City Hall.
The capstone of Meridian’s downtown renewal is still to come. That will be the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center Museum. The Legislature designated Meridian as the site for the center to celebrate and honor “the lives and works of talented Mississippians, whose stories, paintings, performances, dances and other artistic expressions have touched the lives of so many around the world.”
Likewise, the capstone of the tribe’s renewal is still to come. That will occur when job growth resumes under the guidance of Chief Anderson as it did under Chief Martin. In that same vein, Meridian hopes its downtown renewal results in job growth too, not just nice buildings.
Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.