County Transfers Ownership Of Coke Building

This appeared in the Neshoba Democrat - October 23, 2013

The renovation of the historic Coca-Cola building for use in conjunction with a proposed Marty Stuart Center moved closer to reality last week after the Board of Supervisors transferred ownership to the Industrial Development Authority.

Neshoba supervisors passed a resolution authorizing the transfer as well as giving IDA authority to administer $1 million in state bond monies awarded by the legislature in conjunction with the proposed center which would house Stuart's vast collection of Country Music memorabilia, including some belonging to such stars as Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr.

Once the renovation is complete, the remaining monies could be used to help purchase a suitable building to house the actual center, Community Development Partnership President David Vowell told supervisors.

The circa 1926 Coca-Cola building most recently housed a furniture store and is currently being used as storage space for the county.

Philadelphia Attorney Jenifer Branning, who owns the building next door, asked supervisors if there was a time limit for the renovation. "I'm just curious," she said. "I'm not in opposition. I was just interested in the time limit."

Vowell said he hoped construction would begin as quickly as legally possible.

County Administrator Benjie Coats said the first step would be to hire an architect and engineer to design plans and specifications.

He said the project would be subject to the state's bid laws.

Attorney Wade White told supervisors that should the Stuart Center not come to fruition the building would revert back to the county's ownership.

Should that happen, White said the county would not have to repay the $1 million back to the state.

Supervisors voiced support for the project. "This building has been sitting there entirely too long," District 5 Supervisor Obbie Riley said.

"I'm excited we have a chance to see it renovated and used for the welfare of Philadelphia and Neshoba County."

District 2 Supervisor Kevin Cumberland agreed. "It's been an eyesore," he said.

Board President Keith Lillis asked Vowell to ensure that the old Cola-Cola sign is preserved for display inside the renovated building or donated to the historical museum."We can get our men to take it down for you," he said.

Plans call for the building to be used as a warehouse for part of Stuart's collection. Vowell said items from Stuart's collection would be changed out throughout the year from the warehouse to the museum in order to attract visitors on a continual basis.

"It is hoped that once this building is renovated and some of the Marty Stuart collection is housed in Philadelphia that this location will be very helpful in raising funds from the private sector to support the Marty Stuart museum effort," Vowell said.

While officials have looked at several buildings to house the proposed center, a final decision has not been made. The proposed center stems from the Mississippi Country Music Commission which called Stuart's collection "a living history of Country Music" which would be "the heart of a center" in Philadelphia.

Stuart, a Neshoba County native, said the center would be a combination of a museum, theater and classroom. While the center would house the collection, the theater would be for small performances. The classroom was described as a place for "oral histories."

The Coca-Cola bottling operation and The Neshoba Democrat shared the building, at the corner of Center Avenue and Myrtle Street, from the early 1930s at the height of the Great Depression to the late 1950s, a span that covered the editorships of Robin Weaver and Duke Thornton.

The Coke plant eventually occupied the entire building and closed in 1985 when the bottling operation was sold. After the Coke plant closed, the building housed a furniture store before the county purchased it in 2003.

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