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Natchez must get state consent to donate visitors center to federal government
from Staff Reports - NEWS
November 28, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The city needs the state’s permission to donate the Natchez Visitor Reception Center to the federal government.

While the U.S. Congress last March passed a law for the city-owned facility to be transferred to the National Park Service, the Mississippi Legislature must also approve such a measure. The Natchez Board of Aldermen on Tuesday discussed drafting a bill to present to the Legislature, which convenes in January for its annual session.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen have struggled financially in recent years to maintain the 21-year-old visitors center. They’ve been wanting the state or federal governments to take it.

Getting the Natchez National Historical Park to assume ownership of the visitors center would “take a lot of stress off the city,” said Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell.

Since Congress’ approval was given earlier this year, city and National Park Service officials have been negotiating the terms of the facility being donated to the NPS. The Natchez National Historical Park has administrative offices and a book store/gift shop in the visitors center. The Natchez 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 and now needs to be refurbished. A report presented to the Board of Aldermen in 2016 estimated more than $600,000 worth of work is needed for the 25,000-square-foot structure.

The measure to transfer the visitor center to the federal government was embedded in the appropriations bill the U.S. Congress passed in March to complete the funding of the federal government for 2018.

However, Mississippi cities are required by state law to get the state Legislature’s permission to make such a donation. A bill specified just for Natchez will be requested by the Board of Aldermen for passage in the 2019 legislative session.

The requested legislation will also authorize Natchez to donate to the NPS land where the Forks of the Road slave market was located. 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. When Union troops during the Civil War took control of Natchez in 1863 and freed slaves, hundreds of them took refuge at the market site. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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