Wyatt Emmerich: Northsiders plan Franklin County destination resort

 

Wyatt Emmerich

 

 

C Spire is spearheading a public-private partnership to build a beautiful 200-room resort and 1,000-seat conference center on a beautiful spring fed lake in southwest Mississippi.  

 

At a press conference last week at the C Spire headquarters, U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith and newly-elected Congressman Michael Guest spoke in support of the ambitious tourism project, which would be on Lake Okhissa, 10 miles southeast of Meadville and Bude, Miss., in the heart of the Homochitto National Forest. 

 

Engineering and architectural work is being done by prominent Jackson firms Neel-Schaffer Engineering and Wier, Boerner, Allin Architects. 

 

Sen. Hyde-Smith already arranged Congressional approval to transfer 150 federal acres for the site to a new state entity created by the Mississippi legislature called the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance, including five counties in the area. 

 

Scenic Rivers has already taken over management of the nearby state-owned Quail Hollow Golf Course, which was in jeopardy of being closed. 

 

Scenic Rivers will try to marshall local, regional, state and federal funds, various grants and private investors to get the project off the ground. C Spire will wire the facility with state-of-the-art fiber networks so the facility can be used for training computer coders. 

 

There is an element of "build it and they will come." The unusual quality of the spring-fed lake with its crystal clear waters, combined with futuristic connectivity, located in a beautiful national forest surrounded by great fishing, hunting, hiking and golfing, is designed to draw tourists from far and wide and jump-start the sleepy local economy. 

 

All kinds of family water sports are planned, along with hiking trails and a large fine dining facility. Former Congressman and Northsider Chip Pickering is the point man for the project. His formidable organizational skills greatly increase the probability of success. 

 

Tourism is certainly a key industry in Mississippi. The Mississippi Tourism Association states $6.4 billion is spent by 23 million tourists a year, two-thirds of which are from out of state. Annual direct payroll from tourism is $1.9 billion. 

 

Later this year, the city of Flowood is scheduled to open a $50 million high-end hotel and conference center adjacent to a new and improved Refuge Golf Course. 

 

It would be nice if these ambitious projects could be financed purely through the private sector, but that's unlikely in our undercapitalized state. One positive thing about a small state like Mississippi is that it's possible to rally a host of private and public entities around a dream like this. 

 

It's interesting to note that the public-private development efforts are trending away from massive manufacturing facilities and more toward tourism. That's probably a good trend and more in line with the future. 

 

Certainly the support of C Spire will be a big asset. C Spire has its roots in Franklin County where the Creekmore family started in the rural telephone business. Cellular was a natural expansion for them and they have certainly taken the ball and run with it, creating one of Mississippi's best private companies. 

 

Indeed, one impediment to growth in our state is the consolidation of ownership in out-of-state companies. These massive companies tend to be loyal to their home base, furthering the prosperity of large urban areas and hurting development in the hinterlands. Don't expect Verizon or AT&T to be very interested in developing rural southwest Mississippi. That's one of many reasons I am a loyal C Spire customer. The Creekmores and their extended family are a class act and it surprises no one that they long to help the place that started them on their road to success. 

 

A few years ago, 60 Minutes did an amazing story on the Franklin County chess program which engages hundreds of young students, training them to be some of the best youth chess players in the country. 

 

It started when Wade Creekmore recruited Dr. Jeff Bulington from Memphis to start the program in 2015. It has been a huge success. Bulington is quite an amazing character straight out of a Jimmy Stewart movie. He dreams of national youth chess camps and competitions in the proposed conference center. With his quiet charisma, I wouldn't bet against that happening. This is a classic example of what could be in Mississippi with the right leadership and daring. 

 

It's frustrating as a Mississippian to watch the growth of our national economy while our state stagnates. Certainly our lack of a major metropolitan area has hurt us. That's one reason we need to rally behind Jackson and rebuild it into something impressive. 

 

Mississippi is in the middle of the fastest growing region of the richest country in the history of the world. Surely one day, with the right leadership, our prime location will confer prosperity to us. 

 

A project like Scenic Rivers gives us all hope that we might live to see that day. Let's hope and pray for its success. 

 

Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

 

 

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