Downtown Magee Provides Example To Follow
By Mickey Howley
Last Saturday afternoon I was driving back up from the coast. In the past, I have usually made a pit stop in Magee. Magee makes a quick stop, it is right on US Hwy. 49, halfway between Jackson and Hattiesburg and so I grab a bite at the McAlister’s Deli and tank up at one of the several gas stations.
I must have stopped in Magee some twenty times over the years (hey, I go to the coast a lot) But I have never, until last week, looked at their downtown. Why? Well I was always in a hurry to get somewhere and what I saw on US Hwy. 49 did not look appealing enough for me to check it out further.
For those of you who have not been to Magee recently, the town is maybe 1000 people larger than Water Valley and the part on US Hwy. 49 looks like West Jackson in Oxford. There is a Wal-Mart and fast food chains and a couple of strip malls and gas stations, but if my tank and belly are not empty when I’m passing through, I’m not stopping.
Magee is a Mississippi Main Street community like we are. So, they have the signs on the highway saying so and pointing in the direction of downtown, which is seven blocks east of US Hwy. 49. So, I decided this trip to check out Magee and do a little R&D work. Not research and development, but as Sam Agnew our North Miss district chief says, “Rip-off and Duplicate.” Let’s see if they had any good ideas. Come to find out, they have.
Magee has good sidewalks downtown. They have landscaped the sidewalks and installed light standards that match the scale and character of their downtown.
They have banners to put some color in the air. The fronts and backs of their buildings are clean and while not all are occupied, they have the appearance they are in good condition. Magee does not have nearly as many two story buildings as we do, I only saw a few, but all the one story buildings they had were crisp and painted. No crumbling facades.
The best feature of their Main Street was their pocket park. If you don’t know what a pocket park is, you are not alone. It is a park created in the vacant space left by a burned out downtown building. What to do with a vacant space in a downtown streetscape is a common problem for many Mississippi towns.
If the economy is not strong enough to support placing a new building that matches the existing ones there or if business owners think it is better to be located on the bypass in a metal building, these downtown lots remain empty. They look like a broken tooth in the smile of a town’s streetscape.
It is a difficult problem, what to do with an empty commercial lot in a historic downtown. The best solution is to build a new building that matches the scale and style of the existing buildings, but if that is not economically feasible what then?
Magee had such a situation, a building burned down in the middle of the block. There are buildings to each side and also to the rear. They cleaned up the lot, added some plants and small trees, installed some benches, a swing, and simple gazebo. It looks great.
The Farmers Market is in full swing now, Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning. Fresh is fresh, it is that simple. Last week’s survey had melons at number one in the delicious Yalobusha product survey. No surprise, but honey and grapes came in a strong second.
Go to www.watervalleymainstreet.com to vote on what North Mississippi Main Street town (other than Water Valley) is your favorite.