by Joe Buck Coates
Officials from Mississippi Development Authority, Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Hazlehurst are mulling over ideas to help jump-start a revitalization effort in downtown Hazlehurst. . . again. See, this same type of effort was begun some 15 years ago after the area sort of mired in existence with the loss of several long-time retail shops. Several buildings stood empty. The anchor of downtown, Hardy’s Home Center, remained strong, however, and steadfastly pulled traffic to the area. Slowly, with the persistence and capability of new stakeholders, downtown Hazlehurst came back to life with a couple of new restaurants, antique shops, a jewelry store and other new retail opportunities. Storefronts were dressed up to welcome crowds. The area was designated a historical district with an eye toward securing grant funds to revitalize several of the older buildings.
The target property talked about at a recent Chamber luncheon is the old Milsaps Motel on Green Street. What once must have been a bustling business (even at 41, I don’t remember the property as anything more than an old, empty building) has crumbled over several years since it was last utilized. At first glance, the old building, which is privately owned, looks like it should be razed. The roof, littered with holes caused by Mother Nature, was at one time ‘fixed’ with blue tarp, but that has now shredded allowing her resume her slow destruction.
But, that’s why discussions like the one at the Chamber luncheon occur. Someone has a vision to turn the old into the new, to make the unused and unkempt useful and aesthetic again. Grant funds are available, with strings attached, to make it happen. As guest speaker Joy Foy of MDA alluded, it could be the start of a new golden age in downtown area.
The momentum of the previous renaissance of downtown Hazlehurst slowed quite a bit when Hardy’s Home Center closed in 2005 and a few other retailers closed doors later. But, a new batch of stakeholders could be what the doctor ordered to re-start the effort.