Three short years, but wow, the ‘Burg is prospering

Last weekend, out-of-town friends came to visit, and we went on a sight-seeing tour of Hattiesburg. I was proud to show them the changes “my town” has made since their last visit three years ago in February 2017.

There’s been a bunch, and all of them have been overwhelmingly positive. As we ate – and drank – our way through the Hub City, I noticed many of these changes, and they filled me with a sense of pride. The ‘Burg is such a fun and fulfilling place to live, and I’m glad I planted my roots here back in 2010.

The District at Midtown is one excellent improvement to our city. Located across Hardy Street from Southern Miss, the district offers wonderful dining and shopping opportunities, including treats like Robert St. John’s sinful Midtown Donuts. The district’s anchor, Hotel Indigo, gives visitors a charming look into Hattiesburg’s culture and history. The entire area is fun to visit, and I send my kudos to the developers and business owners.

Speaking of Southern Miss, I’m always happy to drive through that beautiful – and growing – campus. If you didn’t know, I’m a William Carey Crusader through and through, but Southern holds a special place in my heart. My friends commented on the university’s beauty, and I was reminded of the devastating 2013 tornado that destroyed much of the front of the campus. The recovery was remarkable, and I’m always happy to introduce USM to others.

On our eating and drinking tour, we stopped by Southern Prohibition in downtown Hattiesburg, and it’s just one example of a local business that’s prospering. They just completed an extensive renovation, and the entire operation is impressive. It’s an asset to our incredible downtown, which is always growing. I hear downtown will soon get an axe-throwing establishment (talk about a new way to vent your frustrations) and another independent bookstore. This news makes me happy.

Walk a few blocks from Southern Prohibition to Front Street, and you can buy bagels, chicken and daiquiris, and other great food. Since my friends last visited, Nelson Haskin Jr. has bought the famed SouthBound Bagel & Coffee Shop and opened Blu Jazz Cafe and Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris. Haskin continues to make improvements on Front Street, and his investments are our town’s gains.

One of my favorite places in the ‘Burg is a hop and skip away from Front Street. The Depot on Buschman Street moved to a new location a few doors away from its previous one, and the building – a rehabilitation project, indeed – is beautiful. Their old location, also on Buschman, is now filled by Fika, a Swedish cafe. These restaurants add great flavor to downtown, and I’m happy they’re here.

I can never resist an opportunity to “show off” my alma mater, and William Carey University has seen tremendous changes since 2017. If you’ll recall, on Jan. 21, 2017, an early morning storm produced an EF3 tornado that made a 31.3-mile trek across east Hattiesburg and into Petal. The tornado killed four and destroyed or severely damaged more than 1,100 homes.

The damage to Carey was catastrophic, with every building on campus receiving damage. Tatum Court, the 103-year-old administration building, was destroyed, along with the 98-year-old twin dormitories, Ross and Johnson Halls.

Shortly after the storm, I wrote, in a Signature column, “…Carey will rebuild. Its picturesque campus will one day be whole again – different, but with its same qualities: a beautiful, safe school offering a valuable education in a Christian environment. Carey will continue to be a place for the next generation of bright-eyed and eager students to find hope and peace within its gates.”

Thankfully, I was right, and, in three short years, Carey is back and better than ever. Its beautiful new administration building, still named Tatum Court, was completed last year, and several other new buildings are now in place. A three-story student center – the tallest building on the campus – is under construction at the site of the former Tatum Court, and the university is growing by leaps and bounds.

East Hattiesburg as a whole is steadily recovering and growing. I always loved driving by the very unique-looking Seventh-Day Adventist church on William Carey Parkway, and I was heartbroken when it was lost in the storm. The church recently finished rebuilding, as have several other places of worship, businesses and homes. There’s still work to be done, but the foundation is strong.

My friends, who last saw this area of town in tatters, were tremendously impressed by these recovery efforts and the overall growth of our city in three years. I’m not even mentioning their reactions to the growth down Highways 49 and 98 – and their reaction to our new Steak ‘n Shake – but I will tell you that one of them even said she’d like to move here.

That’s a testament to our greatness, Hattiesburg. Not only are we great, but we’re also resilient, and we’re poised for a bright future.

Let’s keeping moving upward.

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