New roofing coming to arts center with help of 1-cent sales tax

By HASKEL BURNS,

The transformation of the former Hattiesburg American building into a community arts center is getting its first boost from the 1-percent sales tax increase that was implemented last year on hotels, motels and restaurants in the Hub City.

Hattiesburg City Council members voted 5-0 Tuesday to approve an agreement with Landry Lewis Germany Architects for services related to a roofing project at the building that will be funded with the help of the tax. The funds will allow for the renovation of the roof above the high bay area – or back dock – which will serve as the theater for the arts center.

“That revenue has been coming in, so we’re moving with certain projects in that building,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “It’s a 36,000-square-foot building, and we had an initial roofing study done, and there were four zones.

“We are patching three of those four zones, and we’re doing total replacement of about 12,000 of those 36,000 square feet. (That area) is probably the place where we’ve had the most leaks, so total replacement is in order, so Landry Lewis Germany will be designing that, and we’re putting it out for bid.”

With design expected to take several months before the project goes out to bid, officials are hopeful to see work start by summer or fall.

The renovation of the building on Main Street in downtown Hattiesburg is one of 17 Parks and Recreation projects that were proposed when the new tax was passed by voters in April with an 81 percent approval rate. Other city projects include a girls’ softball field at Hattiesburg High School, drainage improvements to the soccer fields at Tatum Park and a Miracle League inclusion ball field for children with special needs.

Half of the funds from new tax - which is expected to bring approximately $4.2 million in new revenue - will go to the 17 projects, with the other half going to Reed Green Coliseum at the University of Southern Mississippi. The tax is set to “sunset,” or expire, on June 30, 2022, but a vote from both Hattiesburg City Council and the Mississippi Legislature could approve a four-year extension.

So far, the funds from the tax have helped fun the replacement of the gymnasium floor at Thames Elementary School, a basketball/tennis court on East 8th Street, and a walking trail extension at Duncan Lake. Approximately $250,000 of the $3.6 million of the expected city funds was allotted for renovation of the former American building, which was vacated when staff moved locations in summer 2014 and later donated to the city by owner David McKellar.

In addition to the upcoming theater, the building also features a “makers’ space,” where participants come in on the weekends to do woodworking, along with space used by the Hattiesburg Arts Council.

“That (makers’ space) has been really successful,” Barker said. “That’s really kind of become a grassroots effort, where people have come to that building now every week to do some sort of space like that.

“So we’re really starting to see this kind of organic movement to using the building, collaboration, to where we didn’t have it before. So we’re excited about the future, but we’re also very realistic in that this is a long-term project to turn this building around. It’s one that Councilwoman Mary Dryden has been very instrumental in, and the Hattiesburg Arts Council and (executive director) Rebekah Johnson, so we’re very excited about that.”