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Land is no short-term investment

With all of the world’s material treasures available, is it possible that the most valuable is dirt?

Beauty fades, today’s cool technology becomes obsolete overnight, but land remains for generations.

Because of that the famous saying, alternatively attributed to both Will Rogers and Mark Twain, still makes a great deal of sense.

“Buy land. They ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

Regardless of who said it, the phrase still applies.

For many Americans the family farm is a very clear way to pass along wealth to future generations.

But somehow that American respect for owning property and thinking carefully about how it is used seems to go out the door in cases in which the government is involved.

Examples of that are all around us.

International Paper’s Natchez mill site is probably the biggest example of it. A few years ago, IP sold the land to the county, which immediately turned around and sold it to Rentech.

The alternative fuels company hasn’t done much with the land. And, apparently, the county pretty much spent most of the proceeds that were not earmarked for future site improvements.

Flash forward a few years and little has been done at the site, and it would seem prospects of any significant Rentech development appear slim, at least anytime soon.

But apparently, the sales agreement offered no way for the county to secure the land’s ownership again. Presumably Rentech could simply sit on the land for decades, doing nothing with it.

The IP site is a huge tract of land with good access, both traits in which many future development projects might have interest.

However, the site would seem off-limits, simply because we forgot that land isn’t being made anymore.

The IP deal isn’t unique, however. It’s easy, apparently, to get caught up in the moment and think that a good deal today will be a good deal going forward, too.

A similar thing has occurred with the Roth Hill site. Years ago, the City of Natchez started working with a developer on the site.

Through years of stalling and waiting, the site is now beginning to be developed again.

Two things are worrisome.

Just like the Rentech-IP land deal, the city’s apparently long-term lease to the developers seems to offer no “out.” The city has simply locked up the riverfront property for decades in a long-term lease.

Already citizens see the writing on the wall with the casino developers. Just like Rentech’s big plans that seem to shrivel, the casino developers’ plans also seem to be getting smaller.

The casino building’s design is the latest change. Most people can already see where this is going. The Preservation Commission will probably deny the developer’s plan changes. If that happens, smart money would be on the Board of Aldermen simply approving the matter if the developers appeal to them.

Both instances are good examples of simply going for instant gratification and not thinking through the long-term ramifications.

Land isn’t short-term.

It cannot be replenished and poor planning can cause key pieces of land to be locked up for generations.

As Natchez-Adams County continues to work hard to develop new business opportunities for existing businesses and new firms relocating here, wise, forward-thinking land use is critical.

Tomorrow’s opportunity may be crushed by today’s lack of forethought.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.