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Natchez board wants state legislators to OK giving visitors center to National Park Service
from Staff Reports - NEWS
December 12, 2018 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The Board of Aldermen will be asking the state Legislature next year to let Natchez donate the city-owned visitors center to the federal government.

The U.S. Congress last March passed a law for the facility to be transferred to the National Park Service, but the Mississippi Legislature must also approve such a measure.

Natchez aldermen on Tuesday adopted the resolution for drafting a bill to present to state lawmakers, who begin their annual legislative session in January.

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 over the 21-year-old facility.

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 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 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 visitors center to the federal government was embedded in an appropriations bill Congress passed in March to fund the NPS. However, Mississippi cities are required by state law to get the Legislature’s permission to make such a donation. A bill specified just for Natchez will be filed in the 2019 legislative session by state legislators representing the city.

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. 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 market site. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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