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franklin county times

Paul Ott: You gotta love him

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
May 25, 2003
Paul Ott is a quintessential Mississippian. Quick with a story, strong faith, an outdoorsman dedicated to the preservation of all things wild and wonderful.
And anyone who believes in the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center should give Paul Ott a hug on Wednesday when he participates in the official dedication of the center's site at Bonita Lakes.
He's one of the prime reasons the Legislature designated Meridian as home for the center, which is expected to showcase the state's many forms of the arts and entertainment.
In a previous visit to Meridian, Ott outlined what it might be like to step up to a virtual stage and see and hear Elvis say, "Hey, Paul, what's shakin'? Come on up and sing Amazing Grace with me."
Oh, the power of interactive electronics.
Hopefully, Ott's vision of any of us interacting with our favorite entertainers will make it into the final plans for the center. As president of the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, he'll have a say.
Ott is a down-to-earth man from the bucolic paradise of southwest Mississippi who's never been afraid to dream. When it comes to showcasing the contributions from entertainers with a Mississippi connection, he is warm and nurturing.
Stars over Meridian
When the cloth is dropped Wednesday on the official sign and the names of the stars endorsing the project are revealed, just know that while he won't claim the credit, Paul Ott is largely responsible.
He won't be alone, of course. A variety of politicians and other entertainers have played roles in the continuing development of what can be a world class center. Some of them, including Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell, Mayor John Robert Smith and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, are scheduled to attend the dedication.
All of them have been and must continue to be involved in the developmental process if the center is to become a reality. A $50 million project means a lot of fund-raising and collecting money from varied sources federal, state, local and, perhaps most importantly, private.
I remember writing at the time the Legislature was considering where to locate the arts center that it shouldn't have been a contest.
Jackson eventually would propose a constrained few acres between the baseball stadium and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Lakeland Drive. I've enjoyed ball games at the stadium and the Sports Hall of Fame may be the most under-appreciated of Mississippi's first class museums.
But Jackson's was not a good site for an arts and entertainment center. Too small. Too constrained. Too confining. Exactly the opposite of the image that should be conveyed by the words "arts and entertainment center."
Meridian proposed a gorgeous waterfront tract of land, serene, sheltered yet accessible for artists and entertainers who could come and work and show the rest of us the wonder of their creativity.
Keen competition
But the competition was keen. With Ott's support the Legislature designated Meridian as the location.
The list of entertainers who have endorsed the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center project reads like a who's who of American stage and screen. You will recognize their names and, hopefully, appreciate their endorsement.
And one of these days, in the rising heat of a summer evening, when you're out at Bonita Lakes sipping a cup of iced tea and waiting for the concert to begin, don't be surprised if a certain image rises to meet your eyes:
It's an old pickup truck with faded paint and a hound in the back puttering down some dusty road, maybe an artist at work. This truck may have two things that will catch your eye an American flag and a mud-splashed "Paul Ott for Governor" bumper sticker.
If you're really lucky, you might even hear Paul Ott singing "Ole Blue" or "Danny Boy." The man has a genuine love for the things that add value to life in Mississippi and a sophisticated eye for its people and heritage.