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City looking for ways to fund downtown development director position

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez and the Natchez Downtown Development Association are hoping to hire a full-time director to lead renewed downtown development efforts, but who is going to pay for that seems to be the million dollar question.

NDDA board Chairman Pj Forrest said the organization desperately needs a full-time director.

“It’s completely volunteers right now,” she said. “We need a full-time person who is knowledgeable of economic development. The City of Natchez is suffering because we are without (a director).”

NDDA lost $25,000 in funding from the City of Natchez in November 2009. The city had funded that organization since 1988. The money previously allocated funded the salary of the NDDA director. Currently the organization is working without a director with a volunteer board and membership. The Adams County Board of Supervisors also provides some funding.

One of the main reasons for hiring a director, Forrest and Mayor Butch Brown say, is to renew Natchez’s involvement in the Mississippi Main Street Association. Through fundraising efforts, Forrest said, NDDA has maintained its membership dues in the program even without a director.

In order to be a Mississippi Main Street city, Natchez has to meet several requirements, one of which is having a director.

“We’re kind of in a catch 22,” Forrest said. “We can’t get more involved with Mississippi Main Street until we get a director, and we can’t get a director until we get more involved with Mississippi Main Street.”

When the city cut funding during 2009 budget hearings, the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority board voted to provide $12,500 in funding. The EDA has since been dissolved.

Natchez Inc., the product of the restructuring of the EDA, is where Brown is hoping to get funding. Brown said he has talked to Natchez Inc. board Chairman Sue Stedman about to possibility of Natchez Inc. funding NDDA.

“Downtown development is linked to economic development; it’s not just limited to smokestacks,” Brown said.

Natchez Inc. Board Chairman Sue Stedman said she agrees that a vibrant downtown is certainly a vital part of economic development.

“We want to do whatever we can do to help,” Stedman said. “But we have three separate funding agencies, and all of those agencies have to be considered. We will give the idea all the due consideration it deserves.”

Stedman said the decision is ultimately up to the Natchez Inc. board. She added that Natchez Inc. is not the only entity that could be considered to take on NDDA.

“I think the Chamber (of Commerce) is certainly a good fit,” Stedman said.

“There are a number of different ways this could be done, partially a chamber function, fully a city function,” Stedman said. “We have to figure out where does it sit the most appropriately. There are a number of things that have to be considered before we go on and say we’re going to do something.”

Chamber President Debbie Hudson said the chamber does not currently have funding to support a salary for a director for NDDA.

Hudson said she would consider proposing putting NDDA under the chamber’s umbrella if funding for a director could be secured.

First, Hudson said, all of the involved players need to sit down and discuss where NDDA funding can be found.

Hudson said that the CVB could also be a possibility to help fund NDDA.

“We need to get everyone together, so we can pull our thoughts together and see what we can do,” Hudson said.