Marty Stuart’s proposed venue downtown next to the Ellis Theater that would enshrine American country music with a museum full of memorabilia from the likes of Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline is expected not only to draw tourists from all over the world, but to create a need for more services, more restaurants, retail shops and lodging, community leaders said last week.

While an exterior rendering was unveiled last week, neither a cost for construction nor a revenue source for operations were attached to the venue that would consume half a city block between Byrd Avenue and Range along Main Street and be owned by Neshoba County, according to officials.  

Industrial Development Authority Chairman Stanley Salter compared the proposed Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music to the opening of Pearl River Resort over two decades ago and the boost that’s given the local economy.

Community Development Partnership President David Vowell, who first unveiled the plans after Gov. Phil Bryant posted a picture with Stuart on social media in Jackson on Monday bragging on the plans, referred questions this week to Stuart. Vowell could not say if there is a formal board or steering group, but Vowell has been leading the effort locally.

The announcement follows over five years of discussions and $2 million in state bonds for a warehouse in the old Coke building on Center Avenue to house Stuart’s collection.

The county transferred ownership of the Coke building to IDA in 2013 but hasn’t made any financial contributions toward the Stuart center, County Administrator Jeff Mayo said. IDA would own the proposed facility next to the Ellis.

Obbie Riley, president of the Board of Supervisors, said the Stuart center was a good public-private partnership with IDA.

“I think it is a good thing for the community, a good things for the arts,” Riley said. “Marty is a local artist and I feel blessed to have someone like him to work for his hometown and help share the art of music with the world.”

Neshoba County native Sid Salter, a member of the original Stuart center committee, said the project has the potential to bring a new kind of tourism to Philadelphia and Neshoba County.

“The interrelationships of the Neshoba County Fair, the Choctaw Fair and the Pearl River Resort complex can be excellent partners to this project in bringing destination visitors to Philadelphia,” said Salter, Director of University Relations at Mississippi State University.

Stanley Salter said Philadelphia and Neshoba County sees itself as a multi-cultural place, noting the two fairs, the civil rights tour, Pearl River Resort and the Tribe and its unique culture.

He said the Stuart center would add to that and draw people here to see the country music star’s collection.

“We don’t all realize it, but those county music fans, they want to see the boots Patsy Cline had on when she was killed in a plane crash, Hank Williams’ original notes on several songs and guitars from different artists like Johnny Cash.”

Stanley Salter said what he likes most about the Stuart center is the proposed location.

“It needed to be somewhere really visible. It will be right downtown on the court square. I moved back to Philadelphia in 1977 because I love Philadelphia. It’s a neat, great town and I think this is another piece of icing to put on that cake and make it a little bit better place.”

Stanley Salter and others traveled to the Grammy Museum in Cleveland and B. B. King Museum in Indianola in conjunction with the proposed Stuart center.

“When we pulled into the parking lot at B. B. King, and it’s not on the main drag, there was one car from Sunflower and one from another place. All the rest were people that had flown in from overseas, from out West, just to come to see the B. B. King Museum,” Salter said, noting that they told them about Philadelphia.

His vision is that traffic from the Stuart center will create a need for more services, more restaurants and more places for people to stay just like it did when Pearl River Resort opened and expanded.

“Indianola has really boomed from that standpoint,” he said.

He said people going to those museums, to Elvis’s home place, going on the Country Music and Blues Trails, would add the Stuart center to their stops.

Stanley Salter’s vision is that the Stuart center would also bring more entertainment to the Ellis Theater, which it will incorporate.

What’s more, he said it could be utilized as educational teaching tool, where students can come and learn more about music and music history.

Sid Salter said he was particularly impressed with the preservation aspects of the project.

“Marty understands the intersection of entertainment and business in a way that only someone who has been working non-stop since his childhood in that business can understand it,” he said. “I’m very hopeful that this project can come to fruition.”

Mayor James A. Young said he was blown away by the rendering of the proposed Stuart center, calling it a major plus for tourism and Philadelphia in general.

“This tells me that a lot of planning has been put into action,” he said. “I know that it is a huge undertaking but we’ve got to do what we can to facilitate it to happen. The vision, the thought that went into this says a lot about Marty and those who helped.”

Young said the center would fill another niche for central Mississippi.  He said it was a rare opportunity for someone of Stuart’s stature to want to come home and do such a major undertaking.

“We have the resort and a multitude of things that other cities don’t have,” Young said. “This attention will make other businesses want to come here.”

He pointed to the Resort, the blues and country music trail markers, the new airport terminal, the civil rights tour,  growing medical facilities and the Weyerhaeuser expansion in Philadelphia.

“This new addition will be, oh wow, it will be a plus, an economic plus with tourism, with retail,” Young said. “People all over the world will visit and stay here.

“Whatever follows, we have a good base. You have to build your foundation before these larger companies, restaurants or grocery stores begin to look at us again and I think this will help us along the way. Who knows, they may drop in before it is completed.”

Young is thankful that Stuart and others had a vision.

Kristen Page, chairman of the Tourism Council, is excited about the Stuart center, saying it would be a very big deal for Philadelphia.

“It could draw a lot of people to our town and our community,” Page said. “It looks very nice. It’s a great location and the Ellis being right beside it will be beneficial.

“Mississippi has so many different museums, and the music trails, I think this will be another stop for people to make.

“I think it is going to be really big for our community. You finally can see a plan now.  If our community works hard together, we can get it and we will reap the benefits.”

Jackie Hester, Main Street chairman, said the rendering of the center looked really, really nice.

“Hopefully, we can get those private donations and it can happen. Any time we can get tourists in it will means tax dollars for our city and county. That is a plus for our community.  My hope is that will be an attraction and draw people in.”

With the new entertainment center in Meridian, the B. B. King museum and others across the state, Hester said the Stuart center would be another stop in the circle for tourists who travel the state of Mississippi.

“We are already on the map, but this will be another venue to attract tourists,” Hester said.

She was pleased to see that the plans incorporate the Ellis Theater.

“Marty and his entertainer friends can come and perform here. That would be a plus,” she said.

Vowell said the Stuart center  would provide a great opportunity not only to further develop downtown Philadelphia, but to attract tourists and new residents as well.

“I think the fact that the governor and lieutenant governor are so much in favor of it is going to help us on that level, too,” Vowell said. “I think it will definitely help us attract new business. If we can get the construction phase started, that will open up for jobs.  I’m really excited. It’s just going to take some time and some money.”

Vowell said he talked to Stuart’s manager Thursday.

“He has an option on the vacant green radiator building on Range Avenue,” he said. “Once he receives free and clear title on the building he has plans to renovate and use as location to work from during the project and afterwards use as administrative offices.”

Stuart holds the largest private collection of country music artifacts in the world and has been recognized by the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress.

Some pieces have held residence in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry Museum, Grammy Museum, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and several others around the nation and world.

Options have been secured to purchase the buildings on the corner of Byrd Avenue and along Main Street which house A1 Maytag, Tri-State Consulting Services and Advanced Auto.

Vowell said the options are pending on the three businesses being able to relocate.

Stanley Salter recalled how he was in Steve’s on the Square recently and four women from out of town walked in, shopped and then inquired about a good restaurant.

They had heard about Philadelphia, and their husbands were gambling and playing golf at the Resort. They had been shopping at Jerome Tank’s, Kademi and Steve’s, etc.

“They heard how nice the downtown was and they were spending money shopping,” Salter said. “That translates into tourism and tax dollars. That is hopefully what will come out of it [Stuart center] in the long run. People will come here, stay and spend money.”

Once the properties are secured, Stuart said it would be time to seek private donations across the nation and around the world to fund construction.

“The very first donation was made by a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and his wife,” he said. “Steve Miller was our first private donator, unsolicited.”

Three downtown sites were initially considered for the Stuart center.

Stuart hopes the center will be in operation in four to five years.