Riverfront getting back in shape

Published 12:02 am Thursday, June 30, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Comfort Suites’ James Jackson uses a high pressure hose to clean the entranceway to Vidalia’s Comfort Suites Wednesday afternoon on the Vidalia Riverfront. The Vidalia Riverfront is no longer in danger of flooding.

VIDALIA —The infrastructure on the Vidalia Riverfront is finally beginning to show signs of life after surviving the highest Mississippi River levels on record.

Crews have been cleaning, constructing and repairing businesses and streets for weeks since the water left the banks of the riverfront, and for some, business has already started back up.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said unless any major issues arise, the Comfort Inn Suites will open today, making it the second to last business on the riverfront to open its doors for the first time since the flood.

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“We have got everything back up and operating,” he said.

While power and sewage are on at every building on the riverfront, Copeland said Hesco Bastion instant levees and sand still cover the riverfront, creating problems for traffic and the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

Since instant levees and sand rest in the major parking areas for the convention center, Sherri Rabb, director of marketing and public relations for the City of Vidalia and the convention center said the center won’t be able to open until the debris is removed.

Comfort Suites Maintenance Manager Junior Smith prepares to paint one of the rooms inside of the hotel.

“We can’t have an event if we don’t have any parking,

she said.

With the city set to take bids for Hesco and sand removal July 12, Copeland said it would be August before the last instant levee would be gone.

“We hope by the middle of August we will be back to where we were before the flood,” he said.

With at least another month left before opening, Rabb said the crew at the convention center has been moving back into their offices and doing some minor repairs around the facility.

“We are trying to get all the files and furniture set back up,” she said. “We also just have a whole list of things from A to Z that need to be checked.”

Even though they aren’t officially open, Rabb said the center has been taking calls from people, booking events for 2012.

“We have been inundated with calls, and we have been trying to accommodate who we can,” she said. “We just got all the lines back up (Wednesday), and before that we were only dealing with one line for the whole office.”

While the offices may be closed, Rabb said the amphitheater and the levee will be open July 4 for the Miss-Lou’s fireworks celebration.

“People can bring their lawn chairs and sit on the levee, or walk down the levee to the amphitheater to enjoy the show,” she said. “No one can walk or drive on the riverfront though.”

While the convention center prepares for the fireworks and waits to open back up, River View RV Park has spent the past 14 days booking vacancies for the upcoming Fourth of July weekend.

Vidalia firefighters James Kennedy and Cory Martin uses fire hoses to clean the parking lot in front of the Comfort Suites.

“We have been getting a lot of calls from people just asking us if we are even open,” Riverview assistant manager Dorafay Welch said. “This is our biggest season of the year, and we have just been gearing up for the rush since we opened back up.”

Welch said she believes the RV park was able to open earlier than the rest of the businesses because the water never got inside their office.

“All we had to do was bring our furniture and other things back in,” she said. “We made the transition pretty easily, it feels like we just took a vacation.”

Riverpark Medical Center ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. John White said his time spent away from his riverfront office felt almost like a bad dream.

“It is one thing to just have a physician in an office some place,” he said. “But this is a family of people at Riverpark. You don’t just miss the office space, you miss the people you were used to working with every day and that spirit of camaraderie that is in place.”

White said Riverpark has been open since June 20, and only one more doctor has yet to move back into the facility.

“Some of our imaging and surgical services we have not been using to their full capacity,” he said. “By the end of this week, we hope to have the last doctor moved back in, and everything back to normal.”

White said business was slow while his office was temporarily moved to a trailer outside of Natchez Regional Medical Center during the flood, but ever since the move back across the river, things have been picking up.

“One thing that was apparent when we got back was business was moving back to what it was before,” he said. “We have seen a lot of new patients from the surrounding parishes, and we have gotten a lot of our old patients back.”

White said the move back to the riverfront office was a pretty simple and fast move.

“It really wasn’t a problem at all,” he said. “We had lot of cooperation from the city, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

White wasn’t the only one thankful for the city’s assistance. Promise Health Care Inc. Vice President Bryan Day said the hospital wouldn’t be open without the help and support from the city.

“The City of Vidalia has really been supportive and gone the distance to make sure we have had what we need to operate,” he said.

Day said Promise was temporarily opened at Natchez Regional Medical Center two weeks ago and officially opened back up in Vidalia Tuesday.

“The move has gone really well,” he said. “We are still setting up a few offices, but overall considering the circumstances, things couldn’t have gone better.”

Day said the hospital staff was excited to get back to their home office, and even more excited to have business get back to normal.

“It feels very good to be back. There are a lot of smiles on a lot of faces,” he said. “Our employees are in their home and back in a comfortable setting.”

Day also said the hospital is ready to see business get back to where it used to be.

“There was a certain period of time where it was a very rough situation financially, but we managed through it and are finally back open,” he said.

Day said all outpatient and inpatient facilities at Promise are open, and he hopes to have everyone in their offices by the end of the week.