Historic Meridian bus station and parking questions

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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - We're about four months away from the grand opening of a $44 million project in downtown Meridian. Amid the waiting, questions continue about potential parking for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, which is also known as "The Max." We are taking a look today at what some are asking about a possible way to address the problem.

Many in downtown Meridian might agree that parking can be a problem.

"A lot of times I'll have to park a block or two away from where I want to go," says Janice Rivers of Meridian.

"I think we can do a better job," says Zomaria Jordan of Meridian.

Within coming weeks the tourism office in Lauderdale County is set to move out of its current location, and into the old Union Hotel, which is nearby along Front Street.

Here's the catch. The tourism office's current location was previously a bus station. During the 1960s Freedom Riders used that bus station, and tourism officials say it has historic significance.

"We still get people coming in asking to buy a bus ticket, and we have to forward them over to Union Station," says Visit Meridian Executive Director, Dede Mogollon. "There's so much nostalgia associated with this building."

The building's history and location has left some to question whether or not it will be demolished to make room for parking for the nearby Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience once it opens.

Many people may not realize the long process that it takes to do anything to any of the buildings in Meridian's Historic Downtown District. Spanning all the way from where the hospitals along 14th Street are to the other side where the train tracks sit past Front Street, government officials say before they can do anything to the buildings they have to go through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Lauderdale County owns the former bus station. County Administrator Chris Lafferty says there are no formal talks underway right now about possibly demolishing it.

As for tourism officials, they are excited about their new office.

"It'll be much more accessible to visitors coming through to the MAAEX and Soule," says Mogollon. "It's so wonderful to be a part of the building that was built in 1908 and re-purposed to show off again."

According to the Mississippi Civil Rights Trial, Freedom Riders traveled through the Meridian bus station without any major incidents. Historians say this was due to negotiation efforts by local civil rights activists and police. In many other cities the freedom riders often faced violence and arrests.