Pelahatchie is stepping up - 10:08 AM - February , 2009
Like so many small towns, Pelahatchie prides itself on its down-home charm and sense of community.
But the town in eastern Rankin County also wants to experience the same type of growth - albeit on a smaller scale - that has hit the western part of the county in recent years without compromising its current feel.
So the town of about 1,500 people is undertaking a handful of improvement projects in the downtown area to lure more businesses and visitors.
The work, totaling about $2.7 million, includes a planned community center, landscaping, streetscaping and installing bicycle paths from downtown to a nearby park. The city also recently opened a new library.
"The whole goal is we're trying to make downtown the hub of our city, to try to bring in more business," Pelahatchie Mayor Knox Ross said. "Every town wants more retail opportunities" and more business.
Pelahatchie seems well-situated for growth. It sits along two I-20 and U.S. 80 and is less than an hour from Jackson.
But the county's most widespread growth has largely been confined to western Rankin area. Flowood to Brandon are flush with large shopping centers, car dealerships, restaurants and master-planned neighborhoods.
Pelahatchie doesn't plan to transform itself that significantly.
"The leadership there is working tremendously in moving (the area) forward. There are a lot of positives," said Gale Martin, executive director of the Rankin County Chamber of Commerce.
The community center will occupy about 5,000 to 6,000 square feet in the old Bryant Hardware building along U.S. 80. The city bought the property with the aim to make it a focal point.
The facade will be maintained, but the inside will be gutted. Town officials plan to put the project up for bid next month, and construction could start as early as April or May, Ross said.
The center aims to be the town's prime location for receptions, family reunions, business gatherings and other events.
"We're preserving history and turning it into something that will anchor the central part of town," Ross said.
The town also has pushed to be more tech-savvy, budgeting about $5,000 to offer free wireless Internet service in a four-block downtown area framed by Church, Rhodes, First and Munsterman streets.
It's nothing unusual for the average big-city coffee shop but potentially a big step forward for a tiny town with a limited budget.
Town officials hope the projects will help downtown Pelahatchie draw a broader range of businesses.
Brad Williams has operated Pelahatchie Dental Clinic downtown for 10 years and practiced in Brandon before moving to the east.
Williams says the projects can revitalize the downtown area.
"Pelahatchie, before now, hasn't changed that much," he said. "If you can get a nice downtown area, get a little charm, that can (help)."
He hopes more retail and professional offices will set up shop in coming years.
Ross added he'd like to see some upscale boutiques, more restaurants and perhaps some national retailers.
It's important, he said, for the town to have enough unique businesses that residents will stay in Pelahatchie instead of heading to Pearl, Brandon or Flowood. Officials also hope more out-of-towners will come to Pelahatchie to sample its wares.
It can be done, Williams says, noting clientele includes people from Hinds and Scott counties.
In today's economy, it's getting more difficult for municipalities large and small to attract business. But Ross feels controlled growth can work, even in an economic downturn.
"We're certainly not into development at all costs," he said. "It's just not long-term sustainable."
(Taken from Clarion Ledger article by Jeff Ayres on 2/20/09)
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