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Natchez board approves funds to hire former city planning director to start downtown revival
from Staff Reports - NEWS
September 11, 2019 - ListenUpYall.com

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The Board of Aldermen approved funds Tuesday to hire a former city planning director to help "jumpstart" downtown Natchez’ redevelopment. 

The $50,000 allocated by the city board will be used to begin implementing the downtown master plan aldermen approved in May 2018. This brings Phil Walker back to Natchez to be interim director of a newly formed Downtown Natchez Association.

Walker and other consultants formulated the master plan for the city early last year with FOR Natchez, a private group led by Chesney Doyle that hired the professional planners. After more than a year of struggles to get the initiative moving forward with sufficient public funds, Natchez aldermen heeded Doyle’s request Tuesday to appropriate the $50,000.

This, she said, will show Natchez residents that “visible progress” is being made to “jumpstart” the downtown association with “a dedicated professional” like Walker. “We must get organized,” Doyle told the board and Mayor Darryl Grennell.

Walker was Natchez’ planning director from 1991 to 1993. He began his Nashville-based urban planning firm in 2002.

The money to begin implementing the new downtown master plan is from community development funds Natchez gets from leasing city-owned land to Magnolia Bluffs Casino by the Mississippi River. The $50,000 is leftover funds in the city budget for the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The board is preparing to set the budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday. 

The new master plan conceived in 2018 envisioned the quick establishment of a downtown group with a full-time executive director. They’re tasked with spearheading the implementation of comprehensive strategies to revitalize buildings and businesses in the city's core area, which spans from the river bluff area on Broadway Street on the west to the Triangle area where Martin Luther King and St. Catherine streets intersect on the east.

The master plan includes resurrecting the city-owned Broadway Street railroad depot whose restoration has been on hold since 2016 and getting the federal government to move the U.S. Post Office on Canal Street to Martin Luther King Street to bring more bustle to that area.

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Natchez aldermen are seeking state historic preservation funds to reroof the century-old City Hall at an estimated cost of more than $220,000.

The city board voted Tuesday to apply for a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to help replace what’s described as an "extremely worn, patched and leaky roof."

The state money, if granted, would be augmented with city funds totaling about $77,000, according to Natchez Community Development Director James Johnston.

A state-designated Mississippi landmark, City Hall on Pearl Street was built in 1924.

MDAH administers the Community Heritage Preservation Grant program funded by the state Legislature to help preserve or restore local courthouses, schools and other official Mississippi landmarks.

The state Department of Archives and History board will decide in December how the historic preservation funds will be divvied out.

The Adams County Board of Supervisors is also applying for MDAH preservation funds for fixing roof leaks at the county courthouse. Officially declared a Mississippi landmark, the Adams County Courthouse was built around 1820 and extensively remodeled in the 1920s, according to MDAH.




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