Downtown should reflect arts school vision

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 29, 2003

Walking along downtown streets during the Ole Brook Festival, Icould not help but reflect on the progress of the area. But work isstill needed to develop our city to its fullest potential.

With the opening of the Mississippi School of the Arts, thiscommunity stands at a new day where visitors will cast a morecritical eye on the city that has adopted a new slogan “where artsand industry soar.” Our visitors will come here expecting more inthe way of quaintness and uniqueness for a community hanging itshat on the arts.

Unlike most Mississippi municipalities, where growth comes onlyfrom industrial development, Brookhaven is now also an “arts”community.

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With that comes visitor expectations of a peaceful stroll alongthe streets meeting people, enjoying conversation and wandering theshops of local storekeepers. To reach our full potential,Brookhaven needs to stand out from the others — those who are onlyremembered by their flashing signs and chain store fronts.

Visualize for a minute a downtown area with brick-ladensidewalks, planters and strategically placed benches. Awnings andumbrellas cover sitting areas where one can enjoy the sounds of awater fountain gently splashing in the distance. In the background,the sound of gentle music serenades the air. And all of this iswatched over by bronze sculptures or other artwork reflecting thecreative minds of the students we have worked so hard toattract.

Then visualize the sounds of a vibrant economy where cashregisters are ringing and jobs are plentiful…Can you see it?

Work is being done through chamber of commerce committees toenhance our community. Landscaping plans have been drawn with treesand bushes planted along Brookway Boulevard.

But no plans are on the drawing board for the downtown area.

Our streets and sidewalks are a problem and an eyesore. Wherethere are not cracks or broken concrete, we have patches that givethe impression of a quick fix that was fast and cheap.

While downtown streets are to be paved soon, there is noconsideration to future projects. Our storefronts, while muchimproved over the years, still lack the continuity of a communitytrying to present an image that reflects our historic past or ourcreative future.

Many cities and towns are addressing the ambiance of theircommunities and are starting with the downtown areas. New sidewalksand street lighting are tied to architecturally pleasing flowerbedsand benches that ask a visitor to stop and enjoy the area.

Across the state, from as close as Meadville — where over thelast couple of years the community has completed a beautifuldowntown project in anticipation of the growth from the opening ofLake Okhissa — to Natchez, Vicksburg and Oxford, downtowndevelopment is drawing visitors.

I am not here to criticize past and current efforts. Quite thecontrary those efforts are quite good.

We just need to expand the vision with more support andencouragement by our community leaders and elected officials. Frommy vantage point, those efforts are low on the list of needs of acity in the middle of a growth spurt.

What is our long-term plan for downtown and communitydevelopment? Should we not tie the look of our community to thedesign and feel of the arts school campus? Should we not let ourimaginations soar and reach for more?

We would hope our city leaders would move downtown developmentto the top of their list of needs and wants, apply the necessarypressure, find the necessary funding and pull together the cityforces and volunteer efforts that will allow us to live up to theexpectations of a community that houses Mississippi’s premier artschool.

It is a lofty vision, but then again, so was the arts schoolback in 1999.