WEST POINT — A buzzing crowd packed the Ritz Conference Center Monday night to weigh in on the state of West Point.
After the visiting Mississippi Main Street charrette team spent the day making its own observations around town, nearly 150 citizens turned out to tell them what aspects of West Point they”re most proud of, what needs to change and what stories need to be told.
“What a tremendous turnout. Both in terms of the size of the crowd, the age, race and everything,” said Randy Wilson, charrette facilitator and director of design services for Mississippi Main Street, who was impressed with the crowd participation. “They were very energetic. Constant talking.”
Wilson led the discussion with a series of broad questions, such as: “If a foreign dignitary were visiting West Point, what parts would you show them?” and “If you could change one thing about West Point, what would it be?”
It was up to the crowd to speak up and volunteer answers, and answers came as fast as Tripp Muldrow, market analyst and economic development specialist for the charrette team, could type them on a large screen at the front of the conference center.
There were the obvious complaints: Main Street needs a new bridge. Highway 45 Alternate is drab and unappealing. Too many buildings sit empty. Too many people need jobs.
But there was also a great deal of pride exhibited. The list of landmarks traveled from Old Waverly Golf Club to the Howlin” Wolf Museum to the Mossy Oak outlet to Mary Holmes College to Cottrell Street and many more spots in between. The list of notable natives was even longer, beginning, predictably enough, with Chester “Howlin” Wolf” Burnett before turning to former professional football player Tom Goode, renowned journalist Bill Sorrels, Magnolia Film Festival founder Ron Tibbett, civil rights activist John Jackson, artist Critz Campbell and the entire Bryan family, former owners of the Bryan Foods plant.
Wilson and his team will take all of these contributions into consideration as it works to develop a master plan it will present to the public Wednesday at 6 p.m. at The Ritz. Several obvious needs will be addressed in that plan, like transplanting some of the charm and character of West Point”s beloved downtown to Highway 45 Alternate, but Wilson says the rest is wide open.
“We won”t have any specific recommendations until we”ve heard from everyone. We”ve got six more input sessions (Tuesday),” he said.
The majority of participants at The Ritz were pleased overall with what they saw and heard Monday. And the crowd, which included two of five county supervisors and four of five city selectmen, was roundly praised for its participation.
“I”m overwhelmed with the number of people that showed up when they really didn”t have to,” said Mayor Scott Ross. “It shows pride in the community. And they want to take part and make it better.”
“It was very exciting to see everyone come out to see a new bright future for West Point,” said Clay County Growth Alliance Community Director Martha Allen. “We got great representation from all different cultures and age groups.”
However, not everyone saw the crowd at Monday”s meeting or the answers given as truly representative of the community. Roughly one-fifth of the participants in Monday”s meeting were black. According to the 2000 census, over 50 percent of the city”s residents are black.
But even those who saw a disparity in the participants still praised the efforts of the charrette team and those who came out Monday.
Ward 5 Selectman Jasper Pittman said he was happy with the overall direction of the meeting, but the crowd “could have been a bit more diverse.”
Community activist Jesse Ivy called the meeting productive and praised the crowd”s willingness to unify.
“This kind of format is good for the community as a whole,” he said.
Nadia Dale, a community organizer, was impressed by city”s willingness to gather for a progressive discussion and conceded that everyone had an equal chance to make their voices heard.
“I think (input) could have been a bit more balanced, but that again is up to the people. You have to be willing to come and be present,” she said. “There was at least representation here from both sides.”
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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