Cheers went up as the barricades that have blocked the intersection of Leontyne Price and Central Avenue came down. At 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning workers removed barrels and barricades to reopen the intersection that has been closed for the last year and half revealing the city’s first two-lane roundabout and opening up the 500 block of Central Avenue to two-way traffic for the first time since an Urban Renewal project closed it in the 1970s.
City officials and downtown merchants celebrated the reopening with a mini-parade that took them from Short 7th though the newly opened roundabout, down the 500 block of Central Avenue, around the smaller roundabout on Central Avenue, and back up to the big roundabout. Now the area is fully open for public use.
On Saturday, October 22, downtown merchants were literally dancing in the streets to celebrate the end of the construction project. The Central Avenue Block Party hosted by Laurel Main Street kicked off at noon and ran until 4 p.m. The event began with a ribbon cutting ceremony featuring remarks from Laurel Main Street Executive Director Caroline Burks, former Mayor Susan Vincent, Laurel Mayor Johnny Magee, and downtown merchant Teri Knight of the Knight Butcher.
Mayor Vincent recalled the way that the road looked when she was a child and it was open for two-way traffic. She also recalled her efforts as mayor to undo some of the elements that the Urban Renewal project installed, including a set of steps in the middle of the street and the canopy, or shed, that once covered the area. The original idea behind the project was to make the downtown area more like an indoor mall by closing it off to traffic and making it more attractive for shoppers to walk through. However, this vision did not pan out. Although the project was responsible for moving the electrical lines underground, replacing the storm drains, and other infrastructure issues, the area did not take off as an outdoor mall as was hoped. “It ended up not being a good thing for Laurel,” Vincent said. Vincent recalled standing at the downtown fountain, where the small roundabout now is, and watching work crews remove the canopy over the street. “After 50 years, it is going back to what it was originally,” she said. “What a beautiful, beautiful project this is!”
Terri Knight thanked the city for investing in the downtown area and thanked the community for continuing to support local businesses during the long-term construction project that made shopping on Central Avenue difficult.
“Thank you for your patience.” Mayor Johnny Magee said. Magee acknowledged that the project had been a difficult situation for many and joked about how long it took to complete. “Thank you to the merchants for not marching up the hill and setting fire to City Hall,” he teased. However, Mayor Magee expressed the sentiments of many when he noted that the final result was worth the wait. “The final product looks pretty damn good!” he said.
After their remarks, city officials and merchants cut the ribbon and started the party which featured live music and special programs from each of the Central Avenue vendors. For more photos, check out our Instagram page at https://www.instagram.com/laurel__ms/.