Mayor Quordiniah Lockley, saying McComb has had to rebrand itself several times over the decades, believes it’s time to do it again.
“It is my vision that the city of McComb will become the arts and entertainment center of Southwest Mississippi,” he told the McComb Rotary Club on Wednesday.
Lockley said he has learned at economic development workshops that cities need three things to be successful: a brand, a healthy downtown and a pleasant appearance.
He said McComb in the past has moved its brand from a railroad town to a textile town to a retail center.
“Now due to the internet, bricks and mortar is something of the past,” he observed. “So now it’s time for us to rebrand ourselves again.”
Lockley said the city already has established an arts district that includes the downtown area. It is planning Christmas decorations that he hopes people will travel to see, and wants to work with Magnolia and Summit to create a weekend of Mardi Gras parades.
“This brand is achievable,” he said.
As for downtown, the mayor said its decline has occurred over a long period of time.
“We need to all come to grips that it did not die under this administration,” said Lockley, who took office in 2018. “The challenge I face is how to revive or revitalize it.”
He said out-of-town developers have walked downtown streets with him and see potential. They liked the downtown buildings and facades, but said many of them, especially on Main Street, need redesigned interiors to offer smaller spaces.
“New entrepreneurs want to cut back their overhead, and those large buildings are too much for them to handle,” Lockley said.
Positive downtown events include the recent opening of 207 Bistro & Blues on Main Street, along with some specialty shops on Broadway. He said the Palace Theater is scheduled to reopen this fall.
He added that the former J.C. Penney’s building, whose roof collapsed in 2017; and the old Enterprise-Journal building on North Broadway have new owners, whom he did not identify. The Penney’s owner wants to put businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second.
As for the city’s appearance, the mayor said the city borrowed $3.2 million to resurface 51 streets and a number of intersections. It has increased the budget to tear down dilapidated homes, with several already removed and several more scheduled. It is spending money to remove overgrown grass and weeds from vacant lots, and has held volunteer litter pickup programs.
“All these things tell me the city of McComb is moving in the right direction,” Lockley said. “But in order for the city to continue moving in the right direction … we must work together.”
On other topics, the mayor said:
• The city is making progress in improving its financial records, and its cash reserves are improving. “Financially, we are sound,” he said. “But our records, we are getting them in order.”
• The city has talked to several locations in the search for space to hold people who get arrested, including Lincoln County, Hattiesburg and Greenwood. The Pike County jail has restricted the number of people it takes from McComb due to the pandemic.
• McComb’s biggest crime problem is coming from the 15- to 25-year-old group. The mayor said there have been cases in which police arrest someone with a weapon, confiscate it and release him because there is nowhere to hold him, only to arrest the same person a week later with another gun.
• He plans to run for a second term in 2022. He confirmed this after his remarks to the group.
Police Chief Garland Ward, who attended the meeting with a number of city officials, added that there has been an arrest in every recent shooting in McComb.
Rotary members told the mayor that the city needs to improve the overhead lights at the Delaware Avenue and Veterans Boulevard exits of Interstate 55, include the Lynyrd Skynyrd monument in Amite County in its arts and entertainment planning, and encourage all board members to speak more loudly during meetings so that online viewers can hear what they say.
Lockley said everyone at the board table has a lapel microphone, but added, “I cannot make a person speak into the mic.”