Thursday, December 11, 2014

Greenville, Mississippi State of the City Address: Mayor John Cox

John Cox
As I reflected on Year 2014, I thought about the fact that in January a delegation of Greenville officials and representatives went to Washington D.C. and met with Senators Cochran and Wicker and Congressman Thompson regarding city projects and funding needs. Councilmen Benson and Simmons were part of that delegation. Our trip coincided with the President’s State of the Union address, and Errick and I were fortunate enough to get tickets from Cochran’s and Thompson’s office to attend. For me it was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to attend this event. We have all watched these Presidential Addresses before and seen the partisanship displaced by both parties from each side of the aisle –applause, standing ovations, and the occasional moaning or sulking faces.

Well today there is no center aisle, and I don’t expect standing ovations or sulking faces. What I will tell you is that we as Greenvillians have reason to be proud and hold out heads high.
In preparation for this address, I reviewed my remarks of 2013 and what I had listed as accomplishments. Looking back, I saw 2013 as a year of learning and planning. For me it was learning the role as Mayor, such as job responsibility, creating relationships with council members, city workforce and our citizens and being a good ambassador for Greenville. For the City Council – a year of planning for infrastructure projects, economic development strategies and how to make Greenville a more attractive city for business opportunity and improving the quality of life for our citizens, all while operating within tight budgetary constraints.
For Greenville, 2014 has been a year of production. Our city has realized successes in numerous areas, all of which have been outlined in a handout on your tables. Success in any organization and at any level never can be attributed to one individual. In the case of a municipality, success involves your City Council, city workforce and other community organizations. Such has been the case in Greenville.
Projects and plans have been discussed and approved by your elected officials; money has been budgeted from projected venues and appropriated from all available outside sources including loans and grants from federal and state government and non-profits. Partnerships, coalitions and team building with other governmental bodies and local organizations are vital to production and rendering of services by a municipality to its citizens.

Earlier I recognized some special invited guests: members of the Board of Supervisors, Port Commission, Drainage District, EDC, Levee Board, Main Street Greenville, and WCCVB. Our city has worked with all these organizations concerning economic development, downtown and lakefront revitalization, drainage projects, and tourism. Without their cooperation, our production accomplishments would not be as great.
Specifically, I would like to point out some of those accomplishments for 2014: In the area of infrastructure, work under a $600,000 CDBG Grant has begun to replace water lines and make sewage line repairs on Broadway Street from Broadway Loop to USG. After repairs are completed, repaving plans with MDOT will be made for Broadway Street. Aided by a 2013 $500, 000 MDOT Grant, reconstruction of the eastbound lane of Bowman Blvd. will begin within the next several weeks.

Major drainage projects have been coordinated with Washington County Board of Supervisors and Washington County Drainage District. In North Greenville near #9 Canal, projects have been completed. Clean outs of major drainage ditches in South Greenville are near completion. Negotiations with EPA, department of justice and MS Department of Environmental Quality are in the final stages to begin an 8 – 10 year project to rehabilitate and repair Greenville’s entire waste water transportation system. This project will cost approximately $16 million.

Cary Karlson and the EDC staff have completed work on shovel ready sites for outside industry to locate in Greenville – the first, a 795 acre Greenpoint Industrial Site on Hwy. 82 and the second the 61/82 Industrial Park outside Leland. Under the leadership of tommy hart and the port commission, Greenville’s port continues to grow and is now recognized as the state’s largest on the Mississippi River and nation’s 9th largest on the MS River. Several tenants have made expansions and a new industry has recently started operations with 40 new employees. A Port Expansion Project for developing 50 acres at the old Mat Casting site near the Port Industrial area has taken life with funding requests to the Corps of Engineers. The project will require pumping sand from the MS River into the site to build the area to levee height. This project will cost $15 million and take several years to complete once funding has been secured
Trop Casino completed $12 million expansion in October 2014 that included a new family restaurant – Max and Erma’s. Mars announced a three year, $31 million investment in the Uncle Ben’s facility which is set to begin in 1st quarter of 2015. The plans include moving the Global R & D Center for food research from California to Greenville. Our airport has seen upgrades and repairs to runways, taxiways, and the terminal building with future repairs to some hangars slated for 2015. These repairs in part are due to a $5.5 million grant awarded from FAA for airport improvements to the Greenville Mid-Delta Airport. Seaport Airways will begin service out of Greenville in January 2015 with flights to Memphis.

Downtown revitalization has occurred with buildings on Washington Ave. being renovated, and Greenville businesses such as The Pantry and Delta Brewing Supply relocating to this once vibrant commercial district. Bobby Dadlani has work diligently with Leigh Harris and others to beautify downtown Washington Ave. and recently created a new venue for parties and events. Stein Mart Square continues to be enlarged and landscape architect designs are being finalized for future improvements to park. Plans for reconstruction of Schelben Park have been approved by the City Council and bids for this work are being reviewed. The Depot building on Washington Ave. is about to be rehabilitated and become the new home to the EDC. The C&G Restaurant at Central and Walnut is about to be sold to local investors who will begin repairs and renovations. Daniel Boggs of Greater Greenville Development Foundation led the renovations of the historic Les-Lane Apartments, offering affordable, quality housing for low-income families.
An $800,000 grant from MDOT will help fund the construction of a walking and biking trail on the top of the levee. Preliminary engineering and design has begun. The check will be presented by Comm. Dick Hall tomorrow at 10:30 am at the top of the Levee at Central and Walnut.

Quality education for the children of our community is vital In Greenville. our schools, both public and private, are dedicated to improving the environment and opportunity for our children to obtain that quality education. The Greenville Public School District has embarked upon a reorganizational plan that includes new construction of class rooms for all 9th grade district students at the campus of Greenville High School. A new magnet school has opened at the campus of Solomon middle school and is now Solomon magnet school. Students have been provided with the latest technology in the form of iPads to assist with curriculum course work. St. Joseph high school has been recognized as the 4th best private school in the state. Washington school seniors have been offered an average of $1 million in scholarships per year over the past five years.

Beautification efforts continue with the demolition of abandoned housing and lot cleaning. Through our planning department, a new code enforcement officer has been hired and is busy enforcing building codes and city ordinances – in particular, 22 letters were recently mailed to commercial businesses on Hwy 1 and 82 to require signs to be repaired or removed. Clean-up work at the old Freidman Steel Company on Hwy 82 West will begin shortly.

In the area of law enforcement, the Greenville Police Department received achievement commendations from the FBI for their work in prevention of the 2013 Planters’ Bank robbery. Major crime is down and the number of homicides for 2014 (currently 5) is on course to be the lowest in over 15 years. Just this week, Chief Cannon held the first of several public forums for citizens to voice their concerns and ask questions about crime related matters. Our Fire Department has hired an Arson Investigator which has led to several arrests for arson related fires. To date, we have not experienced any fire fatalities in the City of Greenville in 2014.

In the area of tourism, the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau added a new event to an already busy schedule – the 2014 National Crappie Masters Tournament. In September, Anglers from 19 different states were represented and the estimated economic impact of this event on our area was over $3 million. The MS Delta Blues and Heritage Festival was named a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event, the Delta Hot -Tamale Festival was named the Best Special Event by the Mississippi Main Street Association, and the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival was named Festival of the Year by the Mississippi Tourism Association. Plans are also being made for Greenville to be a port of call for the MS Queen and the Queen of the MS river-cruise paddle boats in 2015. And Mainstreet Greenville added a new festival to its lineup: the MS Delta Dragon Boat Festival which was a great success and will help revitalize our lakefront. The festival, located on Lake Ferguson, drew over 20 teams and 1000 spectators to honor the Chinese and Chinese/American heritage in the Mississippi Delta. Our Christmas parade was celebrated by thousands of residents filling Washing Ave. and Stein Mart Square to usher in the Christmas season with Grand Marshals John Horton and Eden Brent. The event was also attended by Miss. Mississippi, Jasmine Murray.
As we look to the New Year, 2015 will be a year of challenges for Greenville, but the challenges will be met with a plan of action. A 20-year comprehensive strategic plan entitled “Greenville – Planning Today for Tomorrow” was adopted by our City Council on December 3, 2014.

Some of the Challenges include:
  • Revitalization of our downtown in both commercial and residential districts;
  • Acquiring new industry to provide more employment opportunity;
  • Continued Improvement in our educational system;
  • Improvement in our City infrastructure; and
  • Finding new sources of revenues to fund needed capital projects.
These challenges can be consolidated into one question: Can we reverse our declining population trends and deterioration in economic and industrial development or will we simply hold on to what and where we are and hope for the best? Our consultant told our City Council last week that he guaranteed them that if the plan was fully implemented, then Greenville will reverse these recent declines – I believe what he said. But it will take all of us, all the businesses, and all the citizens of Greenville working together to get the job done. During the first quarter of 2015, a planning consortium group of citizens representing a cross section of this community will be formed and charged with the responsibility of setting our plan in motion. Some of you in this room will be asked to be a member of that consortium.

Last February, I wrote a letter to the editor of the DDT stating the importance of a spirit of volunteerism of all citizens of Greenville. Everyone in this city can and should offer his or her time and talent to help move Greenville forward on every front.

Today I began by recalling to you my visit to Washington D.C. and my excitement in attending President Obama’s State of the Union Address. I want to conclude with an adaptation of a famous statement made by President John F. Kennedy at his inauguration speech in 1962: Ask not what Greenville can do for you; ask what you do for Greenville.

Thank you and Merry Christmas

The above addresswas given by Greenville Mayor John Cox on 12/11/2014.