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Governor approves bill for Natchez to give visitors center to National Park Service
from Staff Reports - NEWS
March 27, 2019 - ListenUpYall.com

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – Gov. Phil Bryant’s approval of a bill for Natchez means the city can now give the Visitor Reception Center to the National Park Service with hopes the facility will be enhanced.

City officials asked the Mississippi Legislature to pass the bill, which the governor signed into law Friday. In hailing the bill’s enactment, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said this takes a financial burden off the city. It had shared with state and federal governments the expenses of operating and maintaining the city-owned visitors center.

Grennell also said the National Park Service’s ownership should open the way for the 22-year-old structure to be refurbished with federal funds. The NPS operates the Natchez National Historical Park, which is the antebellum Melrose mansion and estate, the William Johnson House and the old Fort Rosalie site

Senate Bill 2275’s passage comes a year after the U.S. Congress in March 2018 authorized the NPS to take over the center. However, the state Legislature had to give Natchez permission to donate the facility.

The bill signed by the governor Friday also authorizes Natchez to donate to the NPS tracts of land where the Forks of the Road slave market was located.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen have struggled financially in recent years to maintain the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. They’ve been wanting the state or federal governments to take the facility.

Since Congress’ approval was given last year, city and National Park Service officials have been negotiating the terms of the center being donated to the NPS. The Natchez National Historical Park has administrative offices and a book store/gift shop in the visitors center. The tourism facility also functions as an official state welcome center for Mississippi.

Located by the Mississippi River bridges, the center was constructed in 1997 with about $8 million in mostly federal funds to be the hub of the city’s tourism sector. It’s only had piecemeal repairs in past years. A report presented to the Board of Aldermen three years ago estimated more than $600,000 worth of work is needed for the 25,000-square-foot structure.

About $45,000 has been earmarked by the Natchez Board of Aldermen the past two years for the building’s repairs and maintenance, according to the city budget. Another $24,000 was appropriated for grounds maintenance.

For the Forks of the Road, plans are for the property at St. Catherine Street, D'Evereaux Drive and Concord Avenue to be developed into an historic site commemorating what was from 1833 to 1863 the second-largest slave market in the South, according to the state Department of Archives and History. Slaves were bought and sold there. When Union troops during the Civil War took control of Natchez in 1863 and freed slaves, hundreds of them took refuge at the old market site.

To read Senate Bill 2275, go to the state Legislature’s website: billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2019/html/SB/2200-2299/SB2275SG.htm




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