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  • Shaw Furlow

$30 million arts & athletic facility planned

By guest columnist R. Shaw Furlow & Bob Arnold

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If you’re riding south toward Brookhaven from Wesson on Highway 51 you’ll soon notice some construction on the east side of the road. Trees removed, access roads and, eventually, what could be the capstone of the Co-Lin campus -- a new Educational Performing Arts and Athletic Center (EPAAC).

The $30 Million complex designed to host basketball games, other athletic events and arts shows, has been in the dreaming and hoping stages, and is now moving into the planning stage and, before too long, into the construction stage. It will include a 1,500-seat performing arts theatre and a 2,000-seat athletic arena with shared ticketing, concessions, and restrooms along with a shared lobby area combining two impressive structures.

“The addition of the EPAAC facility will be monumental for Co-Lin,” said Co-Lin President Dr. Jane Hulon Sims. “There is no other facility of this kind in our region of the state. We want to see our students, our employees, and our citizens have the opportunity to utilize this type of unique and impressive facility. It is just as exciting to think about the economic development impact that the EPAAC facility will have on Southwest Mississippi.”

This will be a facility on par with the Bologna Center at Delta State and the Ford Center at Ole Miss, and will require a building manager and technical expertise as the project moves along.

The auditorium will be at least two levels, and maybe three, and will have the capability to fly in scenery. There will be classrooms and meeting rooms. While not in the current plans, a walking bridge from the front of the main Co-Lin campus over the railroad track may be built. “We’ve made sure the architects know the back of the building has to be as pretty as the front," said Hulon Sims. "We’ll have two nice entrances. But for now, the main entrance will be from highway 51."

$30 million is a lot of money. Where is it coming from?

“We have a plan,” Hulon Sims said. “We call it braided funding." It’s a formula that draws money from different sources, including grants, gifts, alumni and others sources. The college will seek funding from federal grants, local/state support, corporate sponsorships. An aggressive fundraising campaign is already underway. I am very optimistic. This has been long-time needed. It will be a great facility for the area. Hopefully we will host basketball tournaments as well as known performers, band and choir concerts, and other regional athletic and arts events.”

Co-Lin and the Mississippi School of the Arts have expanded their partnership for the project development. MSA has an excellent black box theatre, but it needs a full-sized area for larger productions, and the EPACC will provide that, increasing educational and performance space for both Co-Lin and MSA.

“The Mississippi School of the Arts (MSA) is excited to expand our partnership with Co-Lin for the EPAAC project," said MSA Executive Director Dr. Susanne Hirsch. "We [MSA] are landlocked and do not have the capability to build a proscenium theatre, which is an integral part of the performing arts.

The performing arts center at Co-Lin will enable us to have larger productions and provide an educational opportunity to industry standards better preparing our students for their artistic careers. Students will gain the ability to function in all aspects of the theatre with the EPAAC included in our curriculum. We also hope to partner with Co-Lin to bring guest artists and performances to our area, which is a largely underserved part of the state."

Who knows. Maybe we’ll see productions by Co-Lin students again.

This facility will also create new economic development opportunities within Co-Lin’s seven-country district and the region of Southwest Mississippi, as the EPAAC welcomes performing groups, traveling theatre productions and athletic events. Area economic developers foresee current lodging and restaurant businesses enjoying increased traffic and new ones opening.

Back to the $30 million. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to give to the building funds. I am proud that the Co-Lin Colette and Band Alumni Chapter was the first organization to donate $5,000 to the project. Hopefully, other band and choral alumni will follow suit. Construction is scheduled for 2023, with the opening in the fall of 2024. I’ve ended each of my columns with the same sentence, and it is more apropos now more than ever: Support the arts ( and sports) by being a part of the braided financing for EPAAC.

“A project of this size does not happen overnight,” said Hulon Sims. “We are sensitive to the fact that our community needs a place to host things like graduation ceremonies, award ceremonies, band clinics, dance recitals, and pageants. We look forward to the future with the EPAAC for both our students and employees and the citizens of our community.”

If you’d like to support the EPAAC project, contact the Co-Lin Foundation at 601-643-8332.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region. Bob Arnold is Editor of the Wesson News.


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