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Transport facility costs still uncertain

Brookhaven officials Tuesday learned some more details about aproposed Multi-Modal Transportation Facility, but some issues suchas total local cost and long-term operational expense remainunknown.

City Engineer Carl Ray Furr unveiled new architect’s renderingsof the proposed facility to be located around North Railroad Avenueand Willard Street. So far, the city has received $2 million infederal appropriations, which is available on an 80 percent federaland 20 percent local match basis, for the facility.

“I think what we’ve got here is a plan for the future ofBrookhaven and the inner city,” Furr said while touting potentialbenefits of the facility and the Mississippi School of the Arts onthe Brookhaven over the next 30 years.

Furr said he believes Phase 1 of the facility could be done withmoney already allocated. He said city officials could take thein-kind route for part of the 20 percent local match, with about 10percent possibly coming from a bond issue or a state communitydevelopment block grant.

Phase 1 includes renovation of the old brick smoke stack, whichFurr said would be a symbol for the facility, and exterior enveloperestoration of the old power plant building. New construction inPhase 1 would include roads, parking, a multi-modal terminalbuilding, loading structures, an entrance sign and a new track andspur.

Ward 4 Alderman Bob Massengill said he was not opposed to thefacility, but he did have some concerns about total costs and theexpense to taxpayers.

Furr said he did not have an exact cost estimate for thefacility. He said an additional $2 million in federal funds hadbeen requested and up to a total of $5 million could beavailable.

The Brookhaven facility would be one of five in the state, butso far only the one in Meridian is operational. Massengill said hevisited the Meridian facility and found its retail establishments,an idea that has been proposed in a later phase for Brookhaven,closed.

“That’s a concern of mine in that who’s going to use thefacility and who’s going to pay to keep it up,” Massengillsaid.

Ward 2 Alderman Terry Bates asked when a total cost estimatewould be available. Furr estimated in about 30 days, but said theproject would go forward in phases under board approval.

“We’ll go as far as what you feel comfortable with,” Furrsaid.

Furr said the city could not get the total $5 million in oneappropriation. Therefore, a phased approach was needed.

“The way to do this thing is in phases,” Furr said.

Future phases would include interior renovation of the old powerplant, a museum and/or a restaurant, exterior restorations of otherbuildings in the area, a new sculpture garden and retail and artstudio developments.

“We’re not going to build anything we can’t pay for,” Furrsaid.

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner expressed comments similar toMassengill.

“We want to make sure this thing doesn’t need two to threeemployees down there to keep it running,” the alderman said.

Bumgarner said officials did not want a “white elephant.” Heexpressed a need for the facility to be self-supporting.

“Once you sink $5 million into it, you’ve got to keep it open,”Bumgarner said.

Furr said long-term operational costs were being studied. Healso mentioned a study of possible environmental problems from PCBsunder the old power plant.

“This area is a running liability for the city because of itsdeplorable condition,” Furr said.

Furr acknowledged a concern that the city’s Greyhound busservice would not relocate to the facility. The engineer said theservice was tentatively not coming, but he intimated that issuecould be “forced” later.

Regarding Massengill’s comments about the Meridian facility,Furr said it is not centrally located and that likely contributedto the retail establishments’ decline. The engineer said theBrookhaven facility would be downtown, and that bodes well for thesuccess of a restaurant or other business.

Massengill agreed Brookhaven could be proud to have a facilitylike Meridian’s.

“It just didn’t have a lot of activity when I was over there,”the alderman said.

Furr touted the facility as an ideal place for communityfunctions and meeting places.

Mayor Bill Godbold mentioned the possibility of a museum fornoted sportswriter Jimmie McDowell’s football memorabilia. Otherideas raised included facility space use for city offices or apolice precinct.

Furr encouraged city officials to try and continue to capitalizeon Mississippi’s congressional clout. He said congressional leaderswould like Brookhaven to be the “hub” of southwest Mississippi, andthe multi-modal facility is a step in that direction.

“It’s an opportunity… we’re not going to have again,” Furrsaid.

Furr and city officials tentatively scheduled a trip toWashington in mid-April to visit with the state’s congressionaldelegation. Furr said officials could fly or go to Meridian andcatch a train.

Ward 3 Alderman the Rev. Jerry L. Wilson expressed conditionalsupport for the facility project.

“As long as it doesn’t cost taxpayers more money, I think itwill be very good,” Wilson said.

On a related topic, Furr discussed the possibility of developingscenic tour train service from Brookhaven to Natchez. He said thereare about 50 scenic tour train services, which specialize intourism areas, in the U.S.

“They’re really very popular, and they’re money makers,” Furrsaid.

Furr said a feasibility study would have to be done to gaugepossible success of a Brookhaven to Natchez route.

“It’s thinking big, but it’s a possibility,” Furr said.