The “Hattiesburg Way” of going after big things – and getting them – may have just garnered the city’s biggest project in the last few decades, with the September 27 ribbon cutting and grand opening of the new Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex on James Street.
A project approximately 10 years in the making, the $30 million, 90,000-square foot facility, which was constructed on the site of the former Hattiesburg Police Department, now serves as home for members of that department, along with Hattiesburg Municipal Court, who recently made their move into the building.
“(This) is the culmination of a lot of effort and a lot of people who have dreamed of this, and I think it’s a huge investment in our law enforcement, as well as our municipal court,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “It’s going to be a great recruitment tool for us going forward, to be able to get new officers here, and I think it’s also the catalyst for redevelopment in east Hattiesburg.
“This could have been built anywhere, but there was a firm decision that we were going to stay in east Hattiesburg for the betterment of this community. Between this, the (Hall Avenue) overpass that’s being built, between future infrastructure investments in the area, I think this area is poised to do great things.”
The three-story building hosts offices, interrogation rooms, dispatch, patrol, a traffic sector and a community room, which can be rented out by residents or organizations for various functions. Funding for the complex was helped by a 3-mill increase on property taxes that was instituted a few years ago, along with the restoration of Hattiesburg’s bond rating, which affects a municipality’s ability to borrow monies. That rating had been suspended as a result of the city being behind two years on audits before Barker's administration arrived.
“I see a few retirees here today who thought this day would never come,” Hattiesburg police chief Peggy Sealy said. “Well, it came – here it is. This is a morning long overdue for the Hattiesburg Police Department and the citizens of Hattiesburg.
“This building is above any complex in the state of Mississippi. I know this because I have traveled throughout the state of Mississippi, seeing many law enforcement complexes. This is a great building to be proud of.”
The Hattiesburg Public Safety Complex project – which has been discussed for the last several years as a solution to the police department’s aging facility that had been on James Street for more than 30 years – took its first official step in September 2016 under former Mayor Johnny DuPree. At that time, municipal court moved from that site to a temporary location in the former federal courthouse on West Pine Street.
That move was followed by the Parks and Recreation Department, which relocated from Katie Avenue to a new location at Tatum Park, allowing HPD’s dispatch to move temporarily into the Katie Avenue building.
LIFE of Mississippi, which was located adjacent to the former HPD building, then moved into a new location on West 7th Street before HPD staff moved into a temporary location on Klondyke Street. Demolition on the former police department was completed in late 2018, minus the former Methodist hospital section that was preserved.
Although original plans for the Public Safety Complex included new facilities for the Hattiesburg Fire Department, that aspect was cut for the time being as a cost-saving measure.
Now that the court and police department have made the move to the new facility, officials plan to use the Klondyke building to house the fire department’s administration, which is currently located on Corinne Street and consists of the chief, assistant chief, inspectors and office support staff. The building also can be utilized as a community space for the neighborhood.
The Hattiesburg Police Department was instituted in 1903 on the first floor of Hattiesburg City Hall. From 1973 to 1982, the department was located at 315 Forrest Street, along with the Forrest County Sheriff’s Department, before moving into the James Street site at the former Methodist Hospital.
“I am excited, and I hope you are too,” said assistant police chief Hardy Sims, who served as lead on the public safety complex project. “Every time and I stop for a moment and look around in this building, I can’t help but say ‘wow.’ It’s impressive, and I’m astonished beyond measure.
“This is the first building since 1903 that this department has been able to call home from the ground up. Every other building has been shared with somebody else, or somebody else’s leftover. I’m inspired by the opportunities this new facility will give us – state-of-the-art equipment throughout, and a building designed and built for our intended purpose.”