This conceptual rendering from 2014 shows what Ridgeland’s new City Hall could look as part of an 11-building City Center.
This conceptual rendering from 2014 shows what Ridgeland’s new City Hall could look as part of an 11-building City Center.
RIDGELAND — Aldermen are moving forward with the issuance of up to nearly $20 million in bonds after approving two resolutions to proceed Tuesday night. 

Bonds to be issued are not to exceed $19,960,000 in value.

Both were passed by 5-0 vote. Ward 2 Alderman Chuck Gautier was late to the meeting and Alderman-at-large D.I. Smith was out sick.

Ward 1 Alderman Ken Heard asked if it was a good “environment” to get a rate on issuing bonds.

He was informed that it was.

Mayor Gene F. McGee said that they hoped to vote on bids for issuance of the bonds at the July 16 regularly scheduled meeting.

“We really need to get going, Chris is already spending money and we want to start on city center as soon as possible,” McGee said.

He was referring to two projects that are slated to be funded through the bonds. Those include the improvement of the baseball fields at Freedom Ridge Park and the long-proposed city center project at the corner of School Street and Highway 51.

City Parks Director Chris Chance presented a bid for $1,395,593 to the board for turf and drainage renovations to Freedom Ridge Park from Stewart Environmental at the Monday evening work session for the first meeting of May. The contract was approved unanimously the following evening.

Chance has stated he wants to improve the fields to attract more tournaments.

This week, aldermen also took another step towards the long-proposed City Center Building. They unanimously approved a resolution to advertise for bids for the project.

Benchmark Construction owner David Marsh made a presentation to the board in early May concerning preliminary designs of the city center project. He gave aldermen a current estimate of $15.9 million.

The city engaged with Benchmark in April to provide construction management services.

“Our job is to represent y’all during the course of construction. We have our blinders on for that,” Marsh said at the time. “We are here to make sure all of the pieces of the puzzle fit.”

At the time he said that they were still smoothing over some issues and completing their survey of the mechanical plans for the building.

“This is something that has been on the board’s wishlist since before I became an alderman 18 years ago and is something our Mayor has been working on for a while,” Gautier said. “It is exciting to see it finally come to fruition. I hope it allows us to offer our citizens better services from a better facility.”

McGee has mentioned in meetings including this Monday’s work session that their current building has been experiencing problems for some time.

“I hope we can get into a new building before this one falls down,” he joked.

The designs were based on Waggoner Engineering drawings the city received in 2014 and has used in the past to promote the project. 

The 2014 drawings showed an ambitious look at what the project could include, including a town hall building, a museum, arts center, and retail/office space totaling 11 structures in all.

Currently, the city plans to move ahead on the new town hall building and a proposed Veterans Garden. The garden will be paid for by private donations managed by members of the Madison County Veterans Service and a board that includes community Development Director Alan Hart and Public Works Director Mike McCollum.

The Veterans Memory Park in Ridgeland is projected to cost $122,000 and was spearheaded by the late Dr. Tom Logue. Plans were approved by the city in April of 2017.

The park will include benches and plaques commemorating the six branches of the military. The park also features a central walkway, the Walk of Heroes and a flagpole. The centerpiece would be a seven-foot bell tower.

“Most cities have a statue or monument that you drive by and that’s fine, but we wanted something you come to and be a part of,” Logue said at the time. “The bell will work and we want people to be able to go and ring that bell and say a fallen veteran’s name for that moment that veteran will live again.”

The city is already into Waggoner Engineering for the design work they have done with the city. The bill is expected to come in at $695,000 for design phase services, special services and services related to the bidding, contracting and construction phase.

“This building is part of the city’s future. Moving forward it is exciting and fulfilling to see these projects come to fruition. We have this and the Lake Harbour Extension Project, to name a few, and the completion of those will be a win-win for everybody. These are projects we have wanted for a long time,” McGee said in April.

In addition to the town center project, city officials could use the money to pursue the Hite B. Wolcott parking lot project axed from the fiscal year 2019 budget and Gautier said that they may need more money to complete the Lake Harbour Drive Extension Project.

At the time of budget talks last July, the park parking lot project was estimated at around $700,000. The project was initially slated to start as early as late 2018 and had $200,000 earmarked in the FY 2018 budget.

The combined estimated total for the three projects with price tags is well within the full capacity of the bonds to be issued at $18,080,593.

Ridgeland officials last issued bonds in December of 2015 in the amount of $11.9 million.

The money was initially slated to alter School Street and construct an entrance where Rice Road connects to U.S. 51 for the City Center Project.

Officials suggested at the time that the money could be used for a variety of other infrastructure projects including parking at the site, roads or “other Public Works priorities.”

McGee said Tuesday that the bond money ended up going toward the purchasing of right-of-way for some of the city’s larger capital projects and some road and sewer improvements and repairs.

“The bond issue was for more than the City Center and Rice Road, although design for the City Hall is included,” McGee said. 

He said that other projects included, “Colony Park Boulevard Right of Way purchase as well as the cost of moving utilities. Lake Harbour Extension Right of Way Purchase as well as the cost of moving utilities and engineer design cost. East Lake Harbour Overlay Project. Jackson Street Multi-Use Trail and Sunnybrook Road Water, Sewer and Road improvements.”