In its entirety: State of the City Address, Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr., August 26, 2003, 5:30 p.m., Union Station
"Good evening. Thanks to Dr. Thomas M. Jenkins, Sr., Pastor of New Dimensions Ministry, for offering the invocation. To President Crisler and members of the City Council, City employees, citizens of Jackson and friends. It's my pleasure to be here. I'm pleased to see you here, and I welcome you to the 2003 State of the City Address. I hope you all have voted in the runoff election already, but if you haven't, rest assured that I'd leave you five or ten minutes to get to the polls.
"Welcome to the soon to be completed Union Station – a state of the art multi-modal transportation center. Please remember that this is a construction site, so please be careful as you move about. Soon, we will officially open this facility to the public—a huge step in the exciting revitalization of downtown Jackson.
"This room is the former Shed House and will become the new mall area with bays for retail operations to my right. The major tenants are Amtrak to the north, and Greyhound to the west. The southern end of the building, the Capitol Street side, will be used for private ventures, possibly a restaurant, more retail space and office space. We'll invite you back to the Grand Opening in the early fall for a full tour.
"We chose Union Station for today's State of the City Address both to give you a sneak preview, and because of its symbolism.
"It's symbolic first of all because of its name: Union Station. In order for Jackson to grow and prosper, our citizens must work together with a common vision of what our Capital City can become.
"It's symbolic because, just like Jackson, Union Station is being restored to its original grandeur, and will also be adapted to the future—it will have many modern additions and many more uses than when its doors first opened in 1927.
"My slogan for the City is really working here – we're retaining the best of the old and adding the best of the new, in order to come up with The Best of the New South.
"It's symbolic because the City of Jackson is like a powerful locomotive—a proud old steam engine that is being fully restored in appearance, while being re-tooled into a rapid transit diesel engine, ready to transport us into the future.
"It requires great effort on the part of many people working together to get a locomotive ready to move its heavy load down the track. The rails have to be cleared of obstacles, and some of the spikes have to be replaced to make sure the track is secure.
"That's why the Annual State of the City address is so important. It's a time to step back and take a good look at how far we've come in the past year, to look at what's underway, and to hear about where our journey will take us next year and into the future.
"It helps us to evaluate what we've done and how we've done it, and to make needed changes so we can do even better next year.
"Let's look at some of this past year's accomplishments…
"First of all, good news: last week we presented a balanced proposed budget which includes a $6.4 million (2.48%) net decrease in spending. At the same time however, we're going to give a pay raise to our police officers and firefighters. The Capital Budget has been increased, including planned expenditures for infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer improvements, new public facilities and streets.
"More good news: while many other cities across the country are experiencing major layoffs and cuts in services, we won't lay anyone off. We will lose 29 positions through attrition, but at the same time, we will increase our number of police officers and firefighters.
"Given the lean economic times we're facing we solicited the aid of a financial advisor to help us devise and implement a proactive financial management plan to insure that we remain fiscally responsible with the taxpayers' dollars. With the economic downturn cities are facing across the nation, coupled with the current rate of spending and revenue projections, our financial advisors estimated that the city could face a $20 million deficit in five years if we do nothing. However, it's our intent to implement recommendations from this plan to help us stay on course.
"Furthermore, the bond ratings received from Standards & Poors and Moody's establish that bonds marketed by the City have favorable investment qualities. The city maintains excellent ratings for its revenue bonds, general obligation bonds and urban renewal revenue bonds which further demonstrate the financial strength of our city. We issued $50 million in new bonds this fiscal year and refinanced existing bonds for a lower interest rate which saved taxpayers nearly $2 million.
"In addition to these two transactions, the city issued $20 million in bonds for the completion of various projects in the city of Jackson such as the expansion of Siwell road to a four-lane road between Hwy. 18 and Raymond Road, the widening of West County Line Road near Tougaloo to include a railroad underpass, Improvements to Fortification Street, a Fire Department and Training Facility, construction of a new library, improvements to several parks and recreation facilities including Smith Wills Stadium, citywide traffic signal projects, and street enhancements to Boling Street and John R. Lynch Street. This $20 million bond issue leveraged another $32 million from other sources, both public and private. All of this is being done without a tax increase.
"In order to achieve a balanced budget, our Chief Administrative Officer and department heads have worked very hard with budget restraints that are not only affecting Jackson, but cities across the United States. At this time, I would like the CAO and all department heads to stand. Thank you so much for your support and dedication to the City of Jackson.
"Economic development is a major priority of this administration – and we're picking up momentum. Union Station, in which we stand today, along with the Telecommunications Conference Center on which construction will begin this fall, the planned Federal Courthouse, and the investment in development of the Farish Street Entertainment District, have sparked real interest in developers for the King Edward Hotel across the street. We have received three exciting proposals for its development that are now under consideration!
"Come to the Farish Street Festival September 6th, and you'll be able to see the work in progress on the Entertainment District it will be a destination for tourists and residents alike. The work on the Police substation, which will be located in the middle of the district, is about 70% complete, and it will open in early Fall—housing the JPD Bike Patrol, and serving as a crime deterrent in the area.
"Now, speaking of Farish Street, the other day someone asked me, as they often do, "how far behind are we," and I responded, about 50 years, but we're moving ahead.
"It is about T.I.M.E.: Tenacity, Investment, Money, and Endurance! When it seems to take forever to complete a project, it's usually because of the effect of years of neglect, benign and otherwise, must be overcome before beginning the visible work. And, that is certainly the case on Farish Street.
"But, I anticipate by the year 2010, a visitor to Jackson who hasn't been here in a decade won't recognize downtown Jackson! For instance, the building on the corner of Pearl and West Street, the Electric Building, will contain luxury apartments, office space and retail space. This project has been made possible because of a downtown tenant who came to Jackson in 1923 and has not left. Here with us today representing Entergy President Carolyn Shanks is Mr. Haley Fisackerly, Vice President of Customer Operations. (Gloria Johnson, George Cooper, and Louis Wright) We also have a relatively newcomer to Downtown Jackson, Ted Duckworth of Duckworth Realty. I'd like to recognize Ted because he partnered with Entergy to make this project possible.
"Now back to 2010, The Metro Parkway, which starts just a block away, serves as a gateway to the west, connecting downtown Jackson to Jackson State University, Metrocenter and Highway 18. The Parkway is sure to bring with it neighborhood and business revitalization. The Municipal Court/Jackson Police Department headquarters building on Pascagoula Street will be totally renovated, and who knows what wonderful, creative, exciting use there will be for the beautiful old Standard Life Building? And we WILL, and we WILL have a new Convention Center! And there WILL be a movie theater in the city of Jackson!
"Another economic development project, the new interchange at I-220 and Industrial Drive, has already attracted three new Nissan suppliers and other companies to invest in coming to Jackson's Hawkins Field Industrial Park, and I truly believe that that's just a beginning.
"This year, the City of Jackson will continue to employ direct marketing of our industrial parks and commercial centers, showing just how much we are committed to bringing new business to our city, and showing prospective entrepreneurs and industries the immeasurable advantages of being located in Jackson.
"I'm also excited to announce that the Crowne Plaza hotel has been purchased by the Columbia-Sussex Corporation, which will convert the hotel into a Marriott. The new owners recently said, and I quote, "Marriott… is a good fit for a vibrant downtown!"
"Our Gateways and Cornerstones project is making noticeable changes to the entrances to the city. In particular, this past year saw the completion of the High Street project. Other gateways and cornerstones are being spruced up and paid more attention to by city crews, by JPD, as well as the people living in and around these areas, who are taking new pride in their neighborhoods.
"This year we will begin the Neighborhood Enhancement Program which will grant funds to neighborhood associations to purchase tools to improve the appearance of their neighborhoods.
"We are also working with Keep Jackson Beautiful to launch the adopt-a-street or adopt a spot program as part of the "Pride in Jackson" campaign.
"We are undertaking a project to improve our viaducts along Mill Street between Amite and Pascagoula. The Mill Street Viaduct Project will improve the viaducts, incorporate public art, bring new sidewalks, street lighting, market space and street work to this section of downtown. We're also going to pave Pearl and Pacagoula Streets from Mill Street to I-55.
"You know quality of life issues have been aggressively addressed in the past year as well. The drainage projects completed in recent years have made a significant difference to the residents living along some of the creeks and drainage ditches in the City of Jackson, but we have additional work to do.
"Although more than four million dollars in drainage improvements were expended last year alone, the need is still great to address drainage concerns throughout the City. That's why in January I will ask the State Legislature for authority to fund a drainage improvement district in Jackson.
"Our Department of Human and Cultural Services has a daily impact on the quality of life of our residents. The Human Services Division works with the elderly, and families as well as our youth. They helped 30 participants receive their GEDs, a program the department will continue to operate this coming year.
"The Department of Planning and Development distributes emergency shelter grant funds to various agencies which help care for the homeless here in Jackson. We must continue to work with agencies that provide services to this segment of our community. We have to be considerate of this population as we continue to redevelop downtown.
"The Parks and Recreation Department continues to provide opportunities for both participatory and spectator sports in our greatly improved parks, gymnasiums, tennis courts, and golf courses, as well as Smith Wills Stadium. And speaking of Smith Wills, "How about those Senators?!" And joining us today is the owner of the Senators franchise, Mr. Carl Bell. Mr. Bell and any other members of the Senators Family, please stand and be recognized. And I'm happy to announce that the Senators are in the playoffs again this year.
"Additionally, staff has worked consistently to bring major national and regional softball tournaments to our City, with some groups returning regularly because of the quality of the facilities and the services received.
"We have completed 4.5 million dollars in improvements to 24 parks, community centers, gyms and golf courses.
"I encourage you to visit your neighborhood parks and other parks that have been improved in recent years, and you'll be actually amazed at the improvements, and the resulting increased usage.
"Last year, we commemorated the memory of September 11, 2001 through a partnership with Entergy and several non-profits to beautify an aging city park in Mid-Town. I invite you to take a look at Wightman Park today at the corner of Wightman and Livingston Streets, and witness this revitalization effort. This year, we will again join forces with the private sector as we make improvements to Ben Brown Park on Mill Street.
"These transformations are possible throughout the City, but they are only possible with your help and commitment.
"On any given weekend in Jackson, we literally have thousands of people enjoying one of our more than 50 parks. Whether they are playing tennis, golf, little league baseball, adult softball, swimming, or participating in activities at one of our gyms or community centers, we have something for everyone. And let us not forget soccer. We have hundreds of children playing soccer in our organized leagues on City-developed facilities throughout our community. In fact, one of those leagues, the Central Jackson Soccer Organization, recently produced a championship team. Ladies and gentlemen, please help me in recognizing and honoring the Blue Knights, the National Champions of boys 12 and under soccer. They're not only the Best of the New South, they're the BEST in the entire Nation. Will the team members, coaches, league officials, parents and friends please stand.
"Whenever the Blue Knights aren't on the field, you can most likely find them with approximately 30,000 other students in our Jackson Public School District classrooms. In honor of the Blue Knights, I'd encourage you to get involved in the life of a young person – mentor, tutor or volunteer to coach a youth sports program, but get involved. Remember these young people are the future of our city!
"Crime prevention and solving crimes continue to be top priorities of every aspect of our life together—quality of life, economic development, education, housing, cost of living and others. We've put more police on the streets than ever before. For the first time, we've surpassed our budgeted number of 450 officers, and in fact, we now have 500 officers and by this time next year, we'll have 550 officers.
"Chief Robert Moore and I announced our Five Point Plan during the past year, and its implementation is already well underway.
"For example, a detective has been assigned to the District Attorney's Office to review and follow City cases to assure that they are proceeding as fast as possible and that there are no breakdowns in the system.
"An ad hoc committee was formed, comprised of judges (county and municipal), JPD, the District Attorney's Office, County Prosecutor's Office, the Sheriff's Department and the City of Jackson. The work of this committee led to the modification of the pre-set bonding process that eliminated pre-set bonds for all violent offenders and certain property crime offenders.
"A Burglary Suppression Team, a citywide four-person team that has addressed auto and business burglaries, moving between precincts as needed.
"A revitalized auto theft team, Operation Cooperation focused multi-jurisdictional forces in neighborhoods experiencing high crime.
"Project Safe Neighborhood, a partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office, with its strategy of sending convicted felons caught in possession of a firearm to federal prison. This has resulted in 66 cases so far, 18 scheduled for federal prosecution.
"Chief Moore has had a number of meetings with metro chiefs of police which are resulting in shared resources, information and joint strategies.
"We also established the Steering Team for the Mayor's "Summit for Children". This team is led by Ann Jones, community leader and member of the Jackson School Board, and Carol Burger, President and CEO of the United Way. This Summit is scheduled for September 11 and 12 will identify gaps and duplication in youth programming, and develop strategies to address the gaps in service.
"As we look at these advancements, the single factor that stands out as leading to the positive change is collaborations and partnerships in implementing the five point plan.
"I invite you to call and enroll in one of our upcoming Citizens' Police Academies, which provide a great opportunity to see first hand what officers do and how they do it, and you learn what you can do to help. Also, I commend the Jackson Police Foundation as a way that you can support and encourage your local police officers and the department. I know the president of the Jackson Police Foundation, Susan Lunardini is here, please stand up Susan.
"The Jackson Fire Department graduated 21 recruits in March of this year. The Department has taken the lead role in the Metro Medical Response System, which prepares medical personnel to work with public safety personnel in response to casualties from weapons of mass destruction incidents.
"Chief Raymond McNulty and the Jackson Fire Department continue to lead the way in our state and in our region in setting up metro area and regional training for disasters. Also, thanks to the Jackson Fire Department, our City maintains a Class 3 fire insurance rating, the best rating in the entire State of Mississippi.
"We're already in the planning stages for next year's International Exhibit, "The Glory of Baroque Dresden," and we're looking forward to welcoming visitors from all over the world to our city once again.
"The Parade of Catfish, I know you've seen the Parade of Catfish, a fund-raising effort by the International Commission on Cultural Exchange, is already welcoming visitors to downtown. They're another example of private investment being used to make Jackson more attractive. Especially on weekends, but every day of the week, it's great to watch the reactions of people, particularly the young (and not so young), as they walk around downtown looking for all of the catfish.
"These creative works of public art that happen to be painted creatures of the river range from serious (as serious as a decorated catfish can be) to hilarious. We would like to thank the sponsors and recognize the creative ability of the artists. Jack Kyle and any sponsors or artists are in the audience, please stand and be recognized. We appreciate your service so much.
"The City's cultural components—Thalia Mara Hall, the Davis Planetarium, the Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center, and the Municipal Art Gallery, presented 1,900 shows or events to over 216,000 people last year. The Mississippi Museum of Art, the Old Capitol Museum, the State Capitol, and the Alamo Theatre, attracted thousands of visitors to Jackson from out of town and out of state. Additionally, the Jackson Zoo is undergoing an $8 million facelift, which includes $1.5 million in City funds, $4 million in state funds, and $2.5 million in private donations. The Declaration of Independence exhibit alone, which the Mayor's Office staff helped to coordinate, attracted 4,000 people to the State Capitol where it was displayed.
"I'd especially like to encourage all of you to visit Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center. It is quickly becoming the leading Mississippi institution that presents exhibitions revolving around the African American experience. This year we will be constructing a new entranceway for the museum off of Farish Street, and renovating the second floor providing artist space and other amenities.
"Hopefully you've noticed an improvement in the customer service attitude of City employees, and if you haven't we want to hear about it. We've implemented a mandated training program led by the Personnel Management Department for all City employees to help improve their customer service skills—including dealing with difficult situations and resolving conflict. We've been getting a positive response from both employees and our customers and fewer complaints.
"By the end of the 2003 resurfacing season, 16 miles of streets will have been paved, 10.3 miles by our city crews.
"Our City crews are doing a wonderful job of complementing the contracted work to improve our streets and are saving us a lot of money. How do you like the work on Capitol Street?
"During the past year, 434 housing units were either repaired or demolished and removed. This is making our neighborhoods safer and more attractive and clearing the way for better homes and businesses.
"The value of building permits exceeded $135 million last year—we continue to average nearly 50 percent above what it was at the start of the last decade. We added 381 new housing units during 2002 – and I keep hearing stories about people who are looking for homes in Jackson because they want to come back to the city and stop the frustration of commuting.
"I nominated 8 inner-city businesses to be part of Inc. Magazine's Inner-City 100. This is an annual, prestigious listing of the top urban businesses in the United States.
"We are happy to congratulate Systems Associates for their selection as one of the top high growth companies in America located in the inner city and located right here in Jackson, Mississippi. Representing Systems Associates' President Toni Cooley is a good stand-in, her father Dr. William Cooley.
"The City spearheaded an effort to help working families access the Earned Income Tax Credit Program. As a result of the work of a coalition formed by the City, and the many Jacksonians who volunteered to assist, working families in Jackson received nearly $6 million more in 2002 than they did in 2001 from the Earned Income Tax Credit Program.
"In an effort to curtail traffic fatalities, we embarked upon a campaign to encourage seatbelt use. In fact, we received a $50,000 grant from the National Conference of Black Mayors partnering with Meharry Medical College for our Buckle Up Campaign. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for young people and some adults, especially African Americans under the age of fourteen. We are committed to doing whatever we can to spread the message of seatbelt usage in the City of Jackson.
"Our Monthly Ward Meetings continue to give our citizens face-to-face contact with the Mayor, and with the heads of City departments, letting people know that we are accessible, and we DO in fact listen to them.
"I could talk about the City of Jackson all day, but I want to give you an opportunity to fellowship and take a sneak preview of this fine facility, but let me just pledge to you we're going to continue to keep our City on the right track.
"Leadership in Jackson today comes from a vision bordering on pure faith with little encouragement; it comes from dogged determination, and a few willing, risk-taking partners. It comes from moving ahead and moving ahead no matter what! This is the leadership I provide. If you want to join in, please don't worry about feeling welcomed. You're welcomed more than I could ever express.
"So, don't be left behind. I encourage everyone to get on board. I assure you that you're on the right train, I assure you that we're going in the right direction, and I assure you that with all of us working together, we're going to reach our destination of becoming the 'Best of the New South!'
"In fact, I'm reminded of some words that were penned by Curtis Mayfield in the mid-1960's:
People get ready, there's a train a-comin.
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is faith to hear the diesels a-hummin.
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.
"Thank you. And now we will have the benediction by Rev. Joe Robinson, Dean of St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral. After the benediction, please join all of us for a light reception in the southern end of the building on the Capitol Street side. The reception is sponsored by Mildred's VIP Caterers and associates."
Interesting news about the Crowne Plaza being bought by Marriott. That hotel has had it's share of owners the past few years.
Mayor Johnson didn't give much insight on the progress of Farish Street, but it's GREAT that the Police Station will be opening this year! Safety is a big issue.
I wish the catfish were staying downtown, and I suppose that some wiil. Will the rest be bought and put on display around town?
Thanks for posting the entire address!
No problem, John. Have you seen Farish the last few days? They've paved the Peaches block and are preparing to brick the sidewalks. It's really the first time that you can envision the way it's going to be, I think. You should go by. Very exciting.
I haven't been by in a while, but I'll check it out this week! Thanks for the update!