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Natchez board discusses RR depot in closed-door session
from Staff Reports - NEWS
March 28, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – Mayor Darryl Grennell and city aldermen closed the public out of their discussions Tuesday about leasing the city-owned railroad depot on Broadway Street.

The city restored the 108-year-old building’s exterior in 2016 but put on hold finishing the interior amid controversial plans by hotelier Warren Reuther to lease the building and make it a tourist center. The Board of Aldermen cancelled the lease with Reuther in 2016 after he had already begun refurbishing the building’s interior.

After more than a year of no progress toward finishing the depot project, the board voted in February to publicly seek proposals from developers on what they could do to it. No formal proposals have been publicly presented yet.

Among the suggestions offered by consultants is to convert the former train station into public restrooms, a dining establishment or a visitors center. A raised terraced area by the depot overlooking the Mississippi River is another idea offered by the consultants hired by FOR Natchez, a private group spearheading a movement to revitalize downtown Natchez. The depot formerly housed a restaurant and a tourist souvenir shop before its restoration.

The Board of Aldermen met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss what city attorney Bob Latham said was the potential leasing of the depot. State law allows government boards to ban the public from meetings concerning prospective leasing of land.

Aldermen on Tuesday did vote in open session to reimburse Reuther for the construction work he had done inside the depot prior to the lease being rescinded. No mention was made of the payment’s amount during the meeting, but City Clerk Megan Edmonds said afterward it’s about $70,000.

The old railroad station’s exterior renovation was done using $1 million in state and city funds. As public funds dried up for the rest of the work, Reuther had agreed to spend $300,000 or more for restoring the interior as part of a lease that former mayor Butch Brown and the board approved in 2015. The board a year later cancelled the deal amid complaints it lacked transparency and didn’t adhere to state laws governing how public buildings are turned over to private developers.

Reuther’s company -- New Orleans Hotel Consultants – currently has a city contract to manage the Natchez Convention Center. In addition to the Natchez Grand Hotel, Reuther also owns Monmouth, the antebellum mansion and estate that accommodates overnight guests. In 2016, he purchased the former Regions bank building on Pearl and Franklin streets with plans to convert it into a hotel.

The train depot was built around 1910 by the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad and later owned by Illinois Central Railroad. Passenger-rail service to Natchez terminated in the 1940s when World War II ended. The building became a restaurant in the mid-1970s. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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