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Farmers market coming to depot?

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — City officials discussed renovating the former railroad depot, which currently houses Cock of the Walk and the Old South Trading Post, to include the Natchez Farmers Market including a public demonstration kitchen.

NATCHEZ — Preliminary plans to relocate the Natchez Farmers Market to the bluff in conjunction with renovating the former railroad depot include constructing a new building for the farmers market and turning the depot into a public product development facility with a demonstration kitchen.

The project’s planning committee, which is comprised of representatives from the City of Natchez, Adams County, the extension programs for Alcorn State and Mississippi State, Historic Natchez Foundation, Tulane University, Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce and Natchez Inc., met Thursday to discuss details of the project.

Alcorn’s extension program is planning to relocate the Natchez Farmers Market, which operates on St. Catherine Street, to the bluff beside the depot.

The city is planning to seek funding, particularly Transportation Alternatives Program funds from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, to renovate the depot.

The depot currently houses the Cock of the Walk restaurant and the Old South Trading Post. The city has said the businesses will have to relocate because the building is not eligible for grant monies if it houses for-profit businesses.

Trading Post owner Jonathan Wood announced that his business is relocating to a space that will double the size of the store. He declined to name the location.

At the meeting Thursday, the planning committee discussed the logistics of constructing a new farmers market and renovating the depot.

The depot’s space would be used for a demonstration kitchen that could be used for educational or commercial purposes. The depot would also house public restrooms, meeting and possible office space.

The depot will also serve as a visitor reception center for the Natchez Trails Project, which will be integrated into the redevelopment of the area.

The demonstration kitchen could be rented for product development purposes, said Ruth Nichols, Alcorn’s assistant vice president for educational and community partnerships.

That could include, she said, someone wanting to rent the kitchen to can jellies or jams to sell.

A covered pavilion will also provide space for music performances and other community gatherings, such as food festivals in conjunction with growing seasons.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, who serves on the planning committee, said she is particularly excited that local artists and artisans will be able to demonstrate and sell their work outside the depot.

“This is really better than what I originally thought we were going to do,” she said.

Alcorn has hired architect William Mills of Mills and Mills Architects as the architect to design the new farmers market.

Mills presented preliminary drawings to the committee at the meeting. The drawings also included demonstration gardens and green space that is planned for the area.

Brown presented preliminary plans for the project to representatives from Tulane when he attended the university’s Mayors’ Institute on City Design last November.

Grover Mouton and Nick Jenisch of Tulane attended the meeting via teleconference.

Monton and Genise have reviewed plans for the project and will continue to provide input to the committee.

The committee agreed that the goals of the farmers market and depot project include agricultural education, a cultural center, community gathering place and a venue for local events.

The idea, Mayor Butch Brown said, is to merge the separate projects and set of needs into one initiative that will boost the local economy and attract locals and tourists to the bluff.

“I believe it’s a win-win for everyone and a golden opportunity to marry all these institutions together,” Brown said.

Alcorn’s School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Science Dean Barry Bequette said he believes the project will benefit both the community and Alcorn.

“The idea is that this will boost the local economy and also help (Alcorn) as well,” Bequette said.

The overall cost of the project, Brown said, is $2-3 million.

Bequette said the estimated cost for Alcorn’s portion of the project is $1.2 million. He said the university has $500,000 committed to the project and is hoping to obtain more funding in lieu of scaling down the plans for the farmers market.