Three downtown sites are under consideration for the new Marty Stuart Center as the project has seen a surge since the first of the year, the country music star and Neshoba County native said on Monday.

Officials are looking at buildings near the Marty Stuart Warehouse on Center Avenue, near City Hall on Main Street and near the Ellis Theater.

A final decision is expected by late spring.

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

A market and financial analysis by Owens Economics, LLC, showed that the museum would attract between 28,000 and 49,000 visitors annually.

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center attracts 27,000 visitors annually while Elvis’ Birthplace sees 80,000 visitors annually, the analysis showed.

The Marty Stuart Center will showcase Stuart’s vast collection of country music memorabilia, including some belonging to such stars as Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.  Stuart’s vast photography collection as well as his and wife Connie Smith’s personal memorabilia will also be included.

“I feel like since the first of the year this project has surged,” Stuart said. “The team forming around it is absolutely impeccable. It’s a dream team and that is the truth. It is in its formative stages, but every time there is a meeting I am encouraged.  I can’t stand a project that sits still,” Stuart said, laughing that he would drive 40 miles out of his way to avoid a traffic jam.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it is moving forward. I absolutely feel solid about that,” he said.

Stuart said officials from the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles would be in Philadelphia soon.

“They are doing a Marty Stuart exhibit and that team will be coming back to Philadelphia to borrow artifacts from our warehouse and take it back to Los Angeles.”

That exhibit will open in May.

The state awarded $2 million in bond money for the renovation of the old Coca Cola building for the warehouse. Items from the collection will be changed periodically from the warehouse to the museum in order to attract visitors on a continual basis.

Community Development Partnership President David Vowell said he was thankful for Stuart’s interest and commitment to his hometown.

He said the warehouse renovation is basically complete and most of Stuart’s collection is in place.

Vowell said officials were studying the strengths and weaknesses of each of the three possible sites for the Marty Stuart Center.

“There has been some discussions with the Philadelphia-Neshoba County Arts Council about possible ways the Arts Council with the Ellis Theater and the Stuart Center could work together,” he said.  “We are working to establish a steering committee to assist with the project in addition to those serving locally. We hope to acquire the property by late spring and move forward.”

Members of the original Stuart Center committee are Sid Salter, Nancy Yates, Chief Phyliss J. Anderson, Robert Khayat and Vowell. The steering committee will be announced in the near future, he said.

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.

The Marty Stuart Center stems from the Mississippi Country Music Commission which called Stuart's collection “a living history of country music” which would be “the heart of a center” in Philadelphia.

The center would showcase such things as Johnny Cash’s boots,  Hank Williams’ guitar, Merle Haggard’s guitar, suit and hat as well as handwritten lyrics to “Today I Started Loving You Again.”

Stuart believes the center will “become the heart of a new Philadelphia, Miss.  It will become a brand new energy source and a beacon of light leaving Philadelphia, Miss., in all directions.”

While northern Mississippi is home to Elvis, B. B. King and a new Grammy Museum, the Marty Stuart Center will be for central Mississippi, he said.

Stuart said the center would be a combination of a museum, theater and classroom.

While the center would house the collection, the theater would be for small performances.

The classroom was described as a place for oral histories.