Panel Maps Improvement Plan

Made up of volunteer architects, engineers, and city planners from around the nation, the group revealed its suggestions Friday in a public forum.

In a nutshell, the suggestions encompass first, completing projects already underway such as the MSU-Riley Arts and Entertainment Center which is set to open in December 2005 and the downtown parking garage.

After doing this, the group is suggesting that the city take on a number of other projects that would essentially create a strong arts district in downtown.

Among the suggestions: Opening six museums in existing buildings in and around the main "arts center district." It spans Union Station to 5th Street. It includes a children's museum, an Institute of Southern Jewish Culture, an Industrial Heritage Musuem, Peavey Museum and moving the Jimmie Rodgers Museum to the west end of Front Street.

Other suggestions include:
1. Attracting high scale retailers to the old Village Fair Mall on 22nd Avenue.
2. Establishing a Business and Tourism Welcome Center.
3. Establishing housing units on the top floors of buildings which house retailers, particularly in the area across from Union Station.
4. Restoring several buildings in the historic African American district as well as establishing a Freedom Summer Memorial there.
5. Turning the Threefoot Building into a hotel and convention center.
6. Creating an Arts Magnet School and hospitality arts study program. 7. Eliminating one way streets for ease and safety.
8. Developing a walking district to connect all of the areas.
9. Sprucing up roadways with new lighting, plants and trees.

"This isn't about taxing people additionally to pay for it," said Mayor John Robert Smith. "This is about taking existing funding mechanisms. You're aware that we funded all of the mall infrastructure through Tax Increment Financing, a TIF. We'll be paying that plan off in the near future and we can recapture that TIF money from the mall and combined with TIF money from the downtown and put a portion of that into a capital improvements plan for the downtown."

In coming weeks, Smith said city officials will gather at a retreat to decide how to move ahead with action on the recommendations made.