A new City Hall is depicted in a rendering that was approved by officials as part of a conceptual plan.
A new City Hall is depicted in a rendering that was approved by officials as part of a conceptual plan.
RIDGELAND - Conceptual renderings of the planned 11-building City Center that will include a performing arts center, new city hall, a museum and an office building were approved Tuesday night by city officials.

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen approved the renderings that show a proposed layout of the buildings and preliminary renderings of the center that will be located off U.S. 51 between School Street and Rice Road.

Officials say these renderings will be used to entice potential tenants for office space, as well as for fundraising efforts.

For months, there has been discussion that School Street and Rice Road will need to be significantly altered to create entrances to the center. The renderings, revealed Tuesday, show in detail what that might look like. (See renderings, page A1.)

The ambitious project, which is still in its exploratory stages, could begin within the next two years.

Ward 2 Alderman Chuck Gautier said he was excited to see the preliminary drawings, even if he knows the finished product likely will not look the same.

"I've seen some other renderings in the past," Gautier said. "We also realize that it's very tentative. But as far as having an image to use for grant-writing and fundraising purposes, we're putting a few things together so we can start."

Alderman-at-Large D.I. Smith said that at the very least it has been nice that they have started clearing the patch of land for the proposed building of debris. He called it an "eye sore" and said that beautification of the space has gone a long way even if they are several years away from actually building. A concrete bridge beam construction company previously owned the land in question.

Mayor Gene F. McGee said that this has been in talks for a while and while nothing has been made concrete these conceptual images are the first steps to get actual estimates and implementable designs from engineers and architects.

Alan Hart, Director of Community Development, said now that they have the look they want they can start looking at funding.

"We were very pleased," Hart said. "We challenged them to produce a set of drawings that creates a traditional-appearing structure, but at the same time expressed the true image of Ridgeland. Their master plan blends the environment of the Natchez Trace with Freedom Ridge Park, and they plan to use native tree species throughout to tie those two together."

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Heard described the drawings as "beautiful" and said he's looking forward to having a new City Center, but is more concerned about securing the funding. He added that besides the naming rights for a performing arts center, there could be other creative options to help fund the project.

"By and large we'll be financing that ourselves," he said. "But we will likely have some space we can lease out for some light retail, as well. We went ahead and bought the entire property so we'd have total control."

"Certainly there's our bonding capacity," Hart said. "There are also state and federal programs. For the proposed Performing Arts Center, we would likely try to get a title sponsor from a private entity who would retain the naming rights."

Hart added that the first building to go up would likely be the new City Hall, but that the city was still exploring several different funding options for the project.

Rankin County-based contractor Hemphill Construction still has the contract to clear the site of concrete and other debris for the next 18 months, and although the southern-most section of the land has already been turned over to the city, construction is unlikely to begin for at least a year.

"The earliest possible date to start any kind of construction would be a year from now," Hart said. "But that, like everything else, is all dependent on securing funding."