June was a rocky month for this project, but the team here in Greenwood is committed to seeing this through, and I feel lucky to be part of such a positive group. After taking a few days off to recover during the 4th of July holiday, Richard and I are back in Greenwood, and rather than hiding out until we’ve figured out answers, we’ve been spending extra time in Baptist Town. A few hours with neighborhood residents each of the last three days has energized and inspired us. There is no substitute for spending time with community members in this line of work.
The following article was published in the Greenwood Commonwealth on July 2, 2013.
Baptist Town Project Suffers Setbacks
by Jeanie Riess, Staff Writer
Bill Crump says recent setbacks for the Baptist Town project won’t prevent it from moving forward.
“We are committed to getting this project completed one way or another,” the chairman of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation said.
Two new setbacks recently were added to the list of challenges the project has faced since its inception in 2010.
The bill to redirect 26 “Katrina cottages” donated to the city of Greenwood by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not picked up during a special session of the Legislature in June.
The bill would have given the city, which now owns the cottages, the authority to donate them to the Fuller Center, a nonprofit charged with installing the permanent houses. The city does not have the legal authority to make such a donation; it can only sell the cottages as surplus property.
The cottages are the kind of small structures used to provide housing on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The new, brightly colored homes, which are to be installed in Baptist Town to help revitalize the century-old black neighborhood in Greenwood, are sitting at Greenwood-Leflore Airport.
“We had the legislation ready,” Crump said. “Sen. (Lydia) Chassaniol and Sen. (David) Jordan were prepared to introduce the legislation to give the city the authority to donate the cottages to the Fuller Center. Rep. (Linda) Whittington and Rep. (Bobby) Howell were ready to introduce the bill to the House.”
Crump said he and Angela Curry, executive director of the economic development foundation, along with Emily Roush Elliott, the architectural fellow managing the project, had also worked with Gov. Phil Bryant’s office to introduce the bill. Only the governor has the authority to add a bill to the call of the special session.
But the Legislature was meeting to discuss the expansion of Medicaid, an issue that Crump said proved so contentious and critical that it pushed any housekeeping issues off the table.
This isn’t the first time the Baptist Town project has seen defeat in Jackson.
In April, state Rep. Willie Perkins amended the same bill to redirect the cottages to a nonprofit of his choosing, one that Crump and his team didn’t feel was a good fit for the houses. The bill died in the Senate, once again rendering the cottages ownerless.
Crump said he’s looking into other options.
“The people of Baptist Town deserve this project,” he said. “The 30 people who have made out applications deserve these houses.”
Curry agreed, and she said in an email that the economic development foundation will keep working to get the cottages placed in Baptist Town despite the setback.
“We have encountered some obstacles, but we cannot abandon this project as it is too important to the residents of Baptist Town,” Curry said. “After all, the mission of this foundation is to improve the quality of life for residents in our community. The fruition of this project will help to do just that.”
The project encountered a second bump in the road last week, when Crump’s team decided to pull out of its partnership with the Foundation for the Mid-South, the organization managing the grant money for the installment of the cottages.
Crump said the decision to split from the group came about because the Foundation for the Mid-South did not feel that the Fuller Center was qualified to handle the project.
Crump’s team, however, is committed to working with the Fuller Center.
“They’ve put up more than 30 houses in Greenwood,” he said. “So we decided to continue on with Fuller and not with Foundation for the Mid-South. We would love to continue working with Foundation for the Mid-South, but their requirements were not in accordance with our plans.”
Because the foundation was the manager of the funding provided by the Walton Family Foundation, Crump said the split will affect some of the money.
“That money will be sent back to Walton,” he said.
He insisted, however, that it would not be to the detriment of the project.
“We do have plans to at some point make a proposal straight to Walton for some phases of this project,” Crump said. “But we’re not waiting for Walton. We have other sources of funding we are going to draw from.”
For Crump, the only issue standing between the cottages and their new owners is the legal hurdle of donating them.
“Everything else is in place,” he said. “The land has been purchased; Greenwood Utilities has done the initial work with power lines and water and sewerage. We have a fantastic team of people who’ve been committed to this for months and years. Everybody really feels we have to get this completed.”