City hopes to have Main Street open by end of year

By BUSTER WOLFE,

City officials hope to open Main Street in front of Mount Carmel Baptist Church before January 2018 after the Council ruled that the site was “a menace to the safety and health of the community” and voted to demolish it.

The church, which is located at 1101 Main St., has been in disrepair since the 2013 tornado. Main Street is closed between East Fifth and East Sixth streets.

All four Council members who attended the special meeting Thursday afternoon voted to declare the building a hazard. Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado, whose ward includes the church, was not at the meeting.

The City Council then voted to accept the bid of $339,970 from M&M Services of Hattiesburg to demolish the building. Ward 5 Councilman Nicholas Brown abstained from voting.

Before vote was taken, Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden read a prepared statement about the church demolition.

“I have felt tremendous sadness,” she said. “To the members of Mount Carmel, I would like to express my sympathy and the loss that you have experienced. Please know that I grieve with you as I remember the weddings I have attended and served in there. Others grieve with you like my colleague, whose five children were all baptized in that sanctuary.”

Dryden said the initial damage to the church came in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, and in 2013, the tornado heaped more distress on the building.

“It should be obvious that the City Council cares about other buildings that are important too, such as Eaton and Eureka schools,” she said. “There have been tremendous funds from city funds to preserve them.”

Dryden also defended the work at the former Hattiesburg High School, which was damaged by an arsonist. However, she said she felt the pain of the Mount Carmel congregation.

“Yes, I grieve with you,” she said. “It is tragic to lose another historic building in downtown Hattiesburg. Safety always comes first and the welfare and safety of our citizens is paramount, and that is the bottom line.”

Mayor Toby Barker said the city’s hands were tied in the decision to tear down the church.

“The City Council had two options: they could demolish Building B of that campus or they could do nothing,” he said. “Those were really the only two options they had. If they had done nothing, Main Street would continue to remain closed. They chose to go forward and this means that just Building B of that campus will be demolished and Main Street will hopefully be open sometime before the end of the year.”

Council President Carter Carroll of Ward 3 said safety is the main concern.

“The reason the city is involved is because if the building were to fall down or collapse, it would fall on the streets and could harm the public,” he said, adding the bid came in lower than expected. “We were estimating between $400,000 and $500,000. It was a good bid and this company is on the list of DEQ-approved vendors. They are also local.”

Barker added that the process was difficult.

“It’s never a good situation,” he said. “We know the impact that Mount Carmel and Main Street Baptist Church have had on the community. I hope going forward that Mount Carmel can continue to thrive.”