City officials are working with Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to revitalize multiple areas of Columbus.
Hosemann is leading an initiative to attract new businesses and help existing businesses renovate in areas designated as entertainment districts. The opportunity is available to all Mississippi cities and offers five years of tax breaks to businesses operating within the designated districts.
“We”re in the process of drawing out the maps of where this would take place,” said Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin, who, along with Chief Operations Officer David Armstrong, Mayor Robert Smith and Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, met with Hosemann in August in Jackson to discuss the process.
Gavin said the tax breaks, offered via an “accelerated depreciation schedule,” will be especially valuable to new businesses setting up within the districts because the first five years of any business are generally the most challenging.
Cities can designate any area they wish as entertainment districts. The catch is that at least one business within the district must sell tickets to events.
In the case of downtown Columbus, the qualifying ticket seller could be the Trotter Convention Center, the Rosenzweig Arts Center or even the Gilmer Twin Theater, assuming it”s operational.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem has hopes of designating Seventh Avenue North an entertainment district in hopes of attracting new businesses to the once-thriving black business area. The only problem is establishing a business which sells tickets near the area.
“I”m looking for every kind of resource we can possibly get,” said Karriem.
How about the co-developer and manager of Beale Street in Memphis?
Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau President James Tsismanakis has been in communication with John Elkington, one of the men behind the famous blues walk”s success. Elkington now runs a nonprofit geared toward helping revitalize small towns.
“(The nonprofit) was set up for towns in the Delta, but there”s been interest from us and towns like Florence, Ala., to do like a mini-Beale Street,” said Tsismanakis.
The hope is that having one or more areas of Columbus designated as an entertainment districts would give Elkington and the city more tools to construct the “mini-Beale.” Tsismanakis pictures the tax breaks attracting blues and jazz clubs and restaurants like Beale.
But unlike Beale Street, Columbus” version won”t be synonymous with alcohol consumption. Entertainment district designation does not include provisions similar to resort status, which allows a licensed business to set its own hours for alcohol sales.
Still, alcohol will likely be served in most restaurants in the entertainment district, and Tsismanakis admits it “wouldn”t be a bad perk to bring Mississippi State University (students) over to Columbus.”
Plans for the downtown entertainment district could stretch far enough to include the soccer complex at Burns Bottom, the historic Highway 82 bridge, the Magnolia Bowl and parts of the island.
It may also encompass Catfish Alley, which is already graced by a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker. A second Blues Trail Marker was recently erected on Seventh Avenue North near the site of the former Queen City Hotel and will be joined Oct. 16 by a Department of Archives and History marker.
“All this could tie together. This might be the catalyst for some growth,” said Gavin.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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