Blocking Digital Signs and Helping Small Business


Mayor Harvey Johnson urges residents to add their information to the CodeRED database.

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. will submit a resolution protesting the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce's plan to build and rent three new digital signs in the city, city spokesman Chris Mims said today.

During a city council public forum today, former Mayor Kane Ditto addressed the fact that the Department of Agriculture submitted requests for bid proposals (due May 11) to build and maintain two 40-foot tall and 45-foot wide digital signs on High Street, one at the corner of High Street and Jefferson Street and another slightly east of that, in front of the entrance to the Farmer's Market. A third sign will sit east of the entrance to the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum, on Lakeland Drive. The department plans for the High Street billboards to be double-sided, while the Lakeland Drive sign will face east-bound traffic, according to the Agriculture Department's request for bid.

Ditto lobbied the council against allowing the new construction, saying the flashing digital signs will disrupt the pristine appearance at those sections of the city and that the city has ordinances prohibiting any more digital signs in those locations. Former Council President Leslie McLemore and other council members pushed for city ordinances restricting new digital signs in the city in 2008, but state agencies have the power to ignore city ordinances and zoning rules.

Ditto expressed outrage at the prospect of the new signs. "I can't imagine any city in the country allowing its main civic and cultural dream to be blighted in this way," Ditto told the council. "You can be sure that no state agency would attempt to impose these huge signs on Madison, Ridgeland or Flowood. Those cities simply wouldn't stand for it."

Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce spokesman Andy Prosser said his department was trying to work with the city in working out an agreement.

"We at the Department of Agriculture will be working with the city of Jackson," said Prosser, who could not confirm if the department would move the signs to a more desirable location. "Nothing's been decided yet on anything, but we will be working with the city."

Johnson invested heavily in the renewal of High Street during his second term in office more than six years ago, expanding the sidewalks, installing fluorescent street signs and building a handicap-friendly pedestrian walkway, among other renovations. Mims said the mayor was not happy with the idea of peppering the walkway with new billboards.

Also this morning, the council voted in favor of numerous small business development and storefront improvement grants. The grants, which require a 25 percent match from the business owners, come from the federal government's Community Development Block Grants programs. The city approved a total of three Small Business Development Grants totaling $22,710 and another $34,800 in Storefront Improvement Grants.Harrison Manufacturing (126 W. Mayes St,.) received a grant for storefront improvement while Education Depot (4750 McWillie Drive), Design Interiors (524 Lorenz Blvd.) and Donald Warren Group (4630 Clinton Blvd.) received funding from both grant programs.

The city is also applying for up to $70 million in federal money for street and road repair around the renovated McCoy Federal Building. The city argues that it is eligible for the money under the Economic Development Highway Act, and may steer the money toward road work on Amite, Farish and Roach streets, but has no plan to use the money on Capitol Street, which may be eligible for separate funding.

UPDATED: City Spokesman Chris Mims said later today that the mayor no longer planned to submit a resolution opposing the signs. Mims explained that the city was talking with the commission and working through an agreement. Read more in tomorrow's Jackson Free Press.


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