By Mayor Percy Bland

Mayor Bland: Why We Are Partnering with the Network

Percy Bland took office in July 2014 as the first African-American Mayor of Meridian, Mississippi. His ambitious visions for Meridian include tackling five key areas – education, community development, public safety, infrastructure, and city partnerships. He and his team have already made some amazing progress. Read about the launch of the Network’s project in Meridian and watch a recently released video about the Network’s collaboration with Meridian.

Collaborating with the National Resource Network is an incredible opportunity for Meridian.

There are a lot of exciting things happening in Meridian. We are about to have $130-$150 million of new investment in downtown, including a $45 million Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center. We also have a branch of Mississippi State with plans to put their business and kinesiology programs across the street from City Hall. That’s creating a lot of energy and a lot of excitement; they are great first steps to having a vibrant downtown.

Our small city of 42,000 people has a lot of good bones already in place and has great strengths we can build on. Meridian is easily accessible through direct flights and trains, and with nine historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places and the beautiful art deco Threefoot Building, it’s a great place to visit.

But, Meridian has its challenges, particularly high unemployment, violent crime, and, right now, limited downtown activity. We were asked to be one of the Network’s “beta” or pilot cities and immediately said, “Yes!” They did an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Meridian and then came back over the summer to interview me, other leadership in the city, and community stakeholders. Taking all of that into account, they delivered concrete recommendations for us, and a plan of action. With the Network’s help, we are going to:

  • Prioritize our redevelopment goals. We can’t do everything at once, and what we want to do, we want to do successfully.
  • Identify potential funding sources for redevelopment. This is an opportunity for Meridian to attract interest and financing.
  • Prepare the city to move forward on its own with implementation as we continue to reach out to and grow our stakeholders.

Could we do these things without the Network? Probably, but it would take us longer. Like every city, we have pressing issues. With the ultimate goal of a successful and vibrant Meridian, the Network will provide the blueprint we need to move ahead on a number of fronts. It will enable us to look at our challenges differently, not in silos as separate issues, but interconnected. We are one city. We don’t want to make a decision between having a safe city and modern infrastructure, or community development and good schools. We want a plan that helps us do more and smarter.

One of the most exciting elements of working with the Network is being part of a peer convening with other cities across the country. It’s really powerful to talk about our problems and issues and realize that we’re not alone. We can really learn from one another.

I am dedicated to Meridian and to making it a stronger city. The Network is going to help us get to where we need to go, laying the groundwork for decades of progress. It’s very exciting.