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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2002

By Staff
Meridian needs Cooper project
To the editor:
The most significant issue facing the City of Meridian today is its declining population.
As cities shrink, each remaining taxpayer must bear a greater share of the tax burden.  And, in shrinking cities that tax burden tends to grow faster and faster as city government struggles to maintain services. Research also shows that shrinking cities tend to have struggling schools and a declining industrial base.
Growing cities, on the other hand, tend to thrive economically, fiscally, and socially.
From a peak population of 49,374 in 1960, Meridian's population has declined to 39,968 in 2000, a decrease of 19 percent. Our school performance has declined. Our industrial base has declined.  Recognizing the severity of this problem, for three months in early 2001, volunteer members of the Grow Meridian Team met every Thursday to develop strategies to reverse our population decline. 
The Riley Foundation provided funding to bring in experts to support this work. The John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University was our primary consultant. Additional expertise was drawn from MSU's Small Town Center, School of Architecture, and School of Business.
In April 2001, the Grow Meridian Team issued its report.
Nothing could better match our recommendations than the Cooper retirement community proposal put forward by Mayor John Robert Smith. Major new housing development within the City was our primary recommendation.
MSU experts studied available land within the City and showed that the Bonita/Long Creek Lakes area was the major developable site remaining. The Grow Meridian Team strongly recommended using this land for major new housing development.
Our experts also provided us data on the social and economic benefits retirement communities bring.  The team strongly encouraged the City to pursue such "community" developments.
Citizens should applaud Mayor John Robert Smith for attracting the Cooper retirement community. This ranks up there with John Stennis attracting the Navy Base in terms of potential long-term economic benefit. 
Citizens should also give the Mayor credit for developing a win-win strategy in regard to the Bonita Lakes public golf course. His proposal retains the natural setting for walking and riding trails, while providing a much improved public golf experience.
With the Cooper development, our new industrial park, and the Riley Education and Performing Arts Center, our City gets a rare chance to revitalize itself almost overnight. We can bicker and squabble, as has been our nature, and let this special opportunity pass us by. Or, we can think win-win, come together, and move ahead. Our City needs us to do the latter.
Bill Crawford
Chairman, The Grow Meridian Team
Meridian
Cooper project of real benefit
To the editor:
Think big Meridian and Lauderdale county. Stop
thinking small. You've done that (thinking small) for the past 40 years and where have it gotten you? Other Mississippi cities and counties that had populations less than us 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago have surpassed or are catching up to us.
I do not believe that it would be less safe, less Christian or less personal here (Meridian and Lauderdale County) if we became pacesetters, innovators, and leaders not followers in the fields of economic development, education, entertainment and the arts.
Stop thinking selfishly, do it for the children and the young people so they would be proud to stay and live here. It's a shame because the motto of many if not all of our young people that come of age is "can't wait to leave Meridian and go to a real city."
Michael Thomas
Meridian
It's encouraging to see Meridian stepping forward
To the editor:
On The Meridian Star Web site, I've read with interest about the proposed "Cooper" project at Bonita Lakes. As a former resident of Meridian, I support any development that will benefit Lauderdale County and encourage the infusion of tourism dollars into the area.
That's why I find it puzzling that there is such a disagreement over the best use of this land.
It appears the City has carefully considered the pros and cons of such development and designed a plan to accommodate a wide range of interests, especially considering 96 percent of the current hiking trails will remain intact.
Being a golfer myself, I would certainly take advantage of the new course on return visits and Bonita Lakes seems to be a beautiful place for such a development. I also enjoy the outdoors and see no reason why both the supporters and those that oppose the project cannot agree on the current plan.
It's encouraging to see the City support forward-thinking projects that enhance Meridian. Endeavors such as the Bonita Lake development are a step in the right direction to draw former residents back to the area.
Perhaps Cooper Land Development will grow tired of the argument and move on to another city. That would certainly be a loss for all residents of the County.
Come to think of it, in the community where I live, you can't keep the walkers and joggers off the golf course.
Steve Sims
Gulf Breeze, Fla.

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