Downtown railroad depot part of bigger change, plansPublished 12:06am Saturday, September 15, 2012
NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez is once again talking about fixing up the downtown railroad depot housing the Cock of the Walk and Old South Trading Post.
Mayor Butch Brown said Friday the city is planning to restore the city-owned historic depot and has funds pledged from private donors.
“We’ve raised a considerable amount already, but we still need a good bit more,” Brown said.
Brown declined to give the amount of funds raised because he said it was currently only in the form of funds promised and not yet actual donations.
The aldermen discussed ways of funding the renovation the depot in late 2011.
City officials have said both the Mississippi Department of Archives and the Mississippi Department of Transportation disqualified the city’s proposed depot restoration project from grant funding because of the operation of the private for-profit businesses.
The city, Brown said, will again be pursuing grant money.
Regardless of whether the city uses federal funding for the project, Brown said, the businesses will not be able to operate during the planned renovations, which will mean they will have to relocate.
The two businesses in the depot were not on board with the city’s plan last year and Old South Old South Trading Post owner Jonathan Wood said his position has not changed.
The Trading Post, Wood said, has been serving tourists for more than nine years. If the business if forced to relocate and chooses to open in another city, Wood said he does not believe any federal money the city receives for the depot will recoup the loss of the Trading Post.
“But the decision is ultimate (the city’s),” Wood said.
Wood said he has also put a lot of his own money into a marketing program to promote Natchez and entice tourists to visit the city.
“They can get rid of us, but they can’t replace us,” Wood said.
That is not the city’s intention, Brown said, who added he hopes to keep the Trading Post and Cock of the Walk downtown.
“I’m hoping we can assist them in some way so they can relocate their businesses downtown,” he said. “We have ample space downtown that we could accommodate both businesses.”
The city, Brown said, is not trying to hurt the businesses.
“We’re just trying to protect an important historical building,” he said.
Renovating the depot, Brown said, is the first step in what he hopes is a revamp of the bluff.
The depot, he said, would serve as a good location for public restrooms for bluff and Natchez Trails Project patrons.
“Tourism programs have been screaming for available downtown public restrooms, they were doing it when I was mayor in 1992,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to handle that issue.”
The city’s recent purchase of the former pecan factory site, Brown said, makes most of the bluff property owned by the city.
Brown envisions fully developing the bluff into a tourist attraction that will host concerts, flea markets, art expos and other entertainment similar to the entertainment available at Mallory Square’s sunset celebrations in Key West, Fla.
Brown said he hopes the depot renovation work can at least begin before the end of the year.
“But that may be an ambitious goal,” he said.