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Arts center: It's time to put the shovel in the ground'

By Staff
STAR-STUDDED ANNOUNCEMENT Under a tent at Bonita Lakes, future site of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, Paul Ott, chairman of the center's development committee, told visiting legislators Saturday that other big names from Mississippi will be added to a star-studded honorary committee chaired by actress Sela Ward. The honorary committee also includes Mississippians B.B. King, Faith Hill, Britney Spears and Jimmy Buffett. PHOTO BY STEVE GILLESPIE / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
Oct. 27, 2002
Visiting Mississippi legislators saw some of the sights in Meridian Saturday Bonita Lakes, downtown apartments, Hope Village for Children, the Grand Opera House of Mississippi and the Meridian Art Museum.
The legislators are in town this weekend for "Meridian in the Limelight," a celebration of what Meridian has to offer.
Legislators passed on touring other attractions Saturday afternoon, including the Dentzel Carousel and several Around Town Carousels Abound public art displays, after a packed morning agenda. Their afternoon golf outing was also rained out.
The evening itinerary included a reception at Rosenbaum Condominiums and dinner at Weidmann's. A 9 a.m. brunch at the Quality Inn was scheduled for this morning, followed by a golf outing.
planned for 2004
Legislators' first stop Saturday was Bonita Lakes, site of the future Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. Photographs of famous Mississippi artists who have agreed to have their names and faces associated with the project were unveiled there, as was a logo for the center.
The Mississippi State University School of Architecture and The Stennis Institute are developing a master plan for the 175-acre center. It will include a hall of fame for Mississippi artists, a 5,000-seat amphitheater, a 500-seat concert hall, an artist-in-residence program and the Choctaw Cultural Center.
Ground-breaking for the first phase of the project is planned for the fall of 2004.
Sen. Rob Smith, D-Richland, said he was eager to see how Meridian and Lauderdale County had moved forward with the project.
He said most up-and-coming artists struggle to make an impact with limited resources.
Celebrity committee
Mayor John Robert Smith unveiled photographs of actors Sela Ward and Morgan Freeman; musical artists Lance Bass, Jimmy Buffett, Faith Hill, B.B. King, Leontyne Price, Charley Pride and Britney Spears; author John Grisham; and the late Jim Henson's Muppet creation, Kermit the Frog.
The entertainers have been named to an honorary committee for the center chaired by Ward.
Paul Ott, chairman of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center Development Committee, said the list of entertainers is short but many more will be added, including Kosciusko-born Oprah Winfrey.
Ott said he hopes the center will bring the state and its various cultures together, from the Choctaw nation to Delta bluesmen. With the local star power behind his idea, Ott is ready to move forward.
We've got to stop meeting and put the shovel in the ground, but we can't do that without money,'' Ott said.
A sense of pride
Mayor Smith said the celebrities' involvement shows the love they have for their home state. Smith said their visibility and status will spotlight the center and be critical in securing funding.
Rep. Mike Eakes, D-Philadelphia, said many other entertainers, like country recording artist Marty Stuart of Philadelphia, could also lend a hand with the project.