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Leaders: Area riding wave into ’12

NATCHEZ — The coming year should see past projects coming to fruition, new projects getting started and a renewed cooperation between local government entities, local officials said.

Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton said big projects are in the works for 2012. He said teamwork between the city, Adams County, Natchez Inc. and Natchez Now was the key in 2011 to laying the groundwork for the projects.

“It was a team effort, and teamwork will be the key to seeing these projects through to the end,” Middleton said.

One of the 2011 projects — the recruitment of Elevance — should see a groundbreaking in 2012, Adams County Supervisor’s President Darryl Grennell said.

Middleton said he believes Elevance jumpstarted the area’s momentum for economic development. He said he hopes that momentum will carry through with other projects such as Enersteel, a recreation complex, North Natchez Drainage Project and the Magnolia Bluffs Casino on Roth Hill Road.

Middleton said his big wish for 2012 is locking down concrete plans for a recreation complex, which he said will take a joint effort between the city and county.

“I think the three new (supervisors) are going to be proactive in moving recreation forward,” he said. “We need to get this thing going and get it started.”

The next step to getting the recreation project moving will be for all involved parties to get together, Grennell said.

“We need to have a meeting of the minds so we can all be in accord in terms of the methodology we will use to achieve this complex,” he said.

Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said he believes a new recreation complex could have the biggest impact in 2012 of all projects on the city and county.

“It’s kind of been put on the backburner, but I know we’re ready to roll with it,” he said. “If we can get a joint effort, monies will be saved and made for the city and county.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said it’s important to get the recreation project moving this year.

“The people have voted that they want it, and now we need to make it happen,” he said.

Middleton, Fortenbery and Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis all said the Magnolia Bluffs Casino will bring in much-needed revenue for the city.

Middleton said he believes in addition to the 275-300 jobs the casino will create, there will be a tremendous increase in tourism because of the casino.

“We have all the other things in place in the city, the restaurants, attractions, history, this will be just another piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Lazarus likewise said the opening of a new casino will create new revenue streams for both the city and the county.

Middleton said he does not foresee any stumbling blocks in 2012 for casino construction.

“The casino and the (recreation) complex will create jobs and revenue, and all of these things will increase the quality of life, health and welfare of our people,” Mathis said.

Supervisor David Carter said he wants to see in the next year improved communication between the supervisors and aldermen.

Opening the channels of communication between the two governments — and between residents — would alleviate the confusion that sometimes happens, he said.

And Mathis said it will take solid joint effort from the city and county to successfully present project proposals to legislators for federal assistance.

“We’re not going to get the big wish list, but if we can get them to look at the most meaningful projects and present them as a unified group of city and county officials, I think we will get further,” she said.

Mathis said she also wants to see in 2012 the completion of the North Natchez Drainage Project completed and more money allocated for cleaning up dilapidated houses in town.

Middleton and Fortenbery both said the upcoming city elections in May will also be a hot topic on the forefront of residents’ minds this year.

Middleton said regardless of who is elected as mayor and to the Natchez Board of Aldermen, he believes the city’s progress will continue to accelerate.

In addition to the city elections, the coming appointments of a new police chief, traffic director and information technology director will also shape Natchez in 2012, Fortenbery said.

Grennell said one goal for the supervisors this year is to help start Neighborhood Watch programs across Adams County, and Carter said he wants to kick local beautification projects into high gear.

“When I go on vacation, I notice if something looks good or bad,” Carter said.

“(Public spaces) brand our area, and we need to make sure it is properly branded.”

Such projects do not need to be expensive, he said.

Lazarus said the past year has been tough, but he’s ready to see the next one, because he sees hope, a change in people’s attitude and in their spending habits.

Sales tax revenues are up, he said.

“We kind of hit bottom, but now we are turning the corner and heading in the right direction,” he said.