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Depot to go green in revamp?

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Farmers Market could be getting a new home in the railroad depot on the bluff as part of a revamp in preparation for the city’s tricentennial celebration in 2016.

Mayor Butch Brown said the city is in the early stages of fundraising to renovate the city-owned railroad depot with private donations and federal funds.

“(The depot) is about to fall down and is in desperate need of restoration,” Brown said.

The depot currently houses Cock of the Walk and Old South Trading Post and is not eligible for federal funding if it houses for-profit businesses.

The businesses cannot operate during the renovation, Brown said, so they will have to relocate.

The farmers market, Brown said, is a non-profit business that would be a perfect use of the depot and allow the city to apply for federal funding to renovate the building.

Alcorn State University’s Extension Program operates the farmers market, and the market was formed in conjunction with city and county officials.

“It’s a great location for the farmers market and a great utilization of that property,” he said. “We hope to include it into a total redevelopment of the bluff.”

Brown has said numerous times since taking office in July that revamping the bluff is a high priority for him.

Ruth Nichols, Alcorn’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships, said a committee for the expansion of the farmers market has been meeting for several years to find a new location for the market.

Nichols said the committee met with Brown after he took office to brainstorm ideas for a location, and Brown suggested the depot.

Nichols envisions the farmers market as a community gathering spot.

“A place where people can come visit and bring their dogs and enjoy coffee and beignets on the bluff,” she said.

In conjunction with relocating the farmers market, Brown said the city will convert the former pecan factory site on the bluff into public space.

The city purchased the pecan factory site for $750,000 from one-time bluff condo developers Worley Brown LLC as part of a settlement of the lawsuit the developers filed against the city.

Mayor Brown said he would like to see the pecan factory site converted into demonstration gardens or some other type of green space.

Nichols said Alcorn would also like to have community gardens, demonstration flower gardens and involve the Master Gardeners.

A community kitchen near the market in which people could mass produce farm products to sell is also an idea the committee has for the redevelopment of the market.

The market and the demonstration gardens, Nichols said, will be a place where children can come learn about growing foods and healthy eating.

“We want it to be a much more comprehensive farmers market and one that you can put up against any farmers market anywhere,” she said.

Farmers markets are a source of economic development in small communities, Nichols said.

“All of my research into small community development points to farmers markets being a key development to growing cities in a community way,” she said.

Brown declined to say how much money has been raised so far for the restoration of the depot, but he said he believed it could take approximately $2 million to restore it.

“We will get (funding) wherever we can find the money, corporate grants, individual donations and federal and state funds where applicable,” he said.

Brown said he wants the relocation of the farmers market to happen as soon as possible, but he said the city has to keep a realistic timeline.

“It will certainly be done by the tricentennial in 2016,” he said.