RIDGELAND — The long-proposed city center project is beginning to take shape as the city prepares to issue nearly $20 million in bonds.

The bond resolution calls for no more than $19,960,000 in bonds to be issued. Residents have until May 7 at 6 p.m. to submit public comments to the city clerk’s office.

Mayor Gene F. McGee said Tuesday evening after the city’s board meeting that plans for the proposed city center, a new town hall complex located School Street, are between “90 and 95 percent” complete. 

Aldermen approved two resolutions Tuesday night pertaining to the project. One was authorization for McGee to sign the design engineering agreement with Waggoner Engineering for design work they have done with the city. The bill is expected to come in at $695,000 for design phase services, special services and services related to the bidding, contracting and construction phase.

McGee said that they were waiting on final designs for a cost estimate for the project. He said the designs were based on drawings the city received in 2014 and has used in the past to promote the project. The drawings showed an ambitious look at what the project could include including a museum, arts center, and business space totaling 11 buildings in all. 

“I know we have them around here somewhere probably in the conference room. This will look like what we have shown in the past but will include all the integral parts like lighting and AC and cabling,” McGee said.

McGee said that this project is just the new town hall building and a proposed Veterans Garden paid for by private donations managed by members of the Madison County Veterans Service and a board that includes community Development Director Alan Hart and Public Works Director Mike McCollum.

The Veterans Memory Park in Ridgeland is projected to cost $122,000 and was spearheaded by the late Dr. Tom Logue. Plans were approved by the city in April of 2017.

The park will include benches and plaques commemorating the six branches of the military. The park also features a central walkway, “the Walk of Heroes,” and a flagpole. The centerpiece would be a seven-foot bell tower.

“Most cities have a statue or monument that you drive by and that’s fine, but we wanted something you come to and be a part of,” Logue said at the time. “The bell will work and we want people to be able to go and ring that bell and say a fallen veteran’s name for that moment that veteran will live again.”

The second item approved was an intent to hire Benchmark Construction Corporation to provide construction management services. This will allow McGee to negotiate an agreement with the firm to present to the board.

“Basically, they will go over the designs very carefully and make sure we don't run into any ‘uh-ohs’ in the building phase. This way we avoid change orders and can complete the project in the most efficient and timely manner while keeping it within budget,” McGee said.

McGee said that this is a “work in progress” but that they would like to have something ready for approval as early as the first or second meeting in May to “take advantage of the construction season” and move on dirt work as soon as possible.

“This building is part of the city’s future. Moving forward it is exciting and fulfilling to see these projects come to fruition. We have this and the Lake Harbour extension project, to name a few, and the completion of those will be a win-win for everybody. These are projects we have wanted for a long time,” McGee said.

While most of the funding for the Lake Harbour extension is funded or earmarked, other items on the city’s wish list of projects are still up in the air. Aldermen entered a public response phase to issue bonds last month. 

City Clerk Paula Tierce said the city has a bond capacity is just under $20 million, although with a tax hike the city could set the limit as high as $47 million.

Alderman-at-Large D.I. Smith said that the town hall project was one of three projects “off the top of his head” that was being considered for any bond money issued.

In addition to the town center project, city officials could use the money to pursue a proposed overhaul of city-owned baseball fields or the Hite Wolcott Parking lot project axed from the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Park Director Chris Chance said that he was hoping to have bids in for a variety of improvements, including the baseball fields, for approval at the first meeting in May. Current estimates put the upgrades at $1.4 million.

At the time of budget talks last July, the Hite Wolcott parking Lott project was estimated at around $700,000. The project was initially slated to start as early as late 2018 and had $200,000 earmarked in the FY 2018 budget.