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Vidalia is making its move again

Vidalia has always been and always will be the city on the move. It’s in residents’ blood, It’s embedded in their DNA. It’s on their sign.

Since the late 1930s when the entire town literally relocated after the Corps of Engineers widened the Mississippi River between Natchez and Vidalia, the small Louisiana town has been moving forward without being held back.

In many ways it has been the little town that could. The town of 4,000 people is home to Louisiana’s first hydroelectric plant and the largest prefabricated power plant in the world. Former mayor Sidney Murray turned his vision into reality.

In recent years, Vidalia transformed a once-abandoned riverfront in a commercial and community success story.

A hotel, two medical facilities and a convention center provide a backdrop to a vibrant public riverfront park. Once again Vidalia turned dreams — this time Hyram Copeland’s vision — into reality.

When the new riverfront faced the Great Flood of 2011, Vidalia used determination, ingenuity along with its strong connection to leaders in Baton Rouge to rescue it from the rising floodwaters.

This week, city work crews have been busy once again moving forward — this time moving boxes, computers and furniture from the city’s modest City Hall on Spruce Street to its shiny new municipal complex on the west side of town.

No longer in small cramped offices, city employees spent the day Thursday unpacking and figuring out what to do with all of the elbow room. They were also trying to figure out a new phone system.

In the coming weeks, the Vidalia Fire Department and Vidalia Police Department will move into brand new buildings built to 21st century standards with state-of-the-art law enforcement technology.

Across the parking lot from the new municipal complex, construction crews are building a new recreation complex that could open as early as June.

Once again, the little town that could is turning vision into reality.

Early black and white photos of entire houses, stores and government buildings being moved to make way for progress, reveal an uncommon strength and determination — a spirit that defies adversity and continues to look forward.

That spirit continues today. As employees settle into their new offices, Vidalia officials refuse to rest, planning not just for what will be but also what might be. Construction crews have been laying the groundwork for a future broadband network. Currently, the network of pipes and fiber optic cable will provide real high-speed communications to the municipal complex. It has also allowed city officials to do a little dreaming.

Could the new fiber optic network be used in conjunction with the new recreation complex? Could tournament baseball games, tennis matches and Vidalia High School baseball games be broadcast live on the Internet? Some officials think so and are already planning for it by providing the infrastructure now during construction, rather than waiting.

Will it be ready when the complex is complete? No, but planning now increases the chance that dreams can become reality.

Given Vidalia’s track record, I wouldn’t bet against them.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-442-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.