Who’s best fit for downtown development?Published 12:01am Sunday, February 10, 2013
For a city with one of the most preserved, most historic downtowns in the state of Mississippi, Natchez’s downtown often finds itself down on its luck.
It’s a bit baffling, really.
Since 2009, the Natchez Downtown Development Association has been floundering around trying to find its way again.
The meandering really started years ago, though.
A potentially fatal blow occurred in 2009 when the City of Natchez cut an annual $25,000 funding supplement.
That amount, combined with the membership dues paid for the group’s executive director and operating budget.
Since the budget cut, the NDDA has survived only through the good will of a handful of volunteers.
Nearly four years after ties to the City of Natchez’s purse were cut, a new administration and a new crop of NDDA volunteers hopes to restore the group’s full-time, paid director.
Having a paid director is one of the requirements for membership in the Mississippi Main Street Association.
But as do most things in life — particularly government life — it all eventually comes down to questions of cash.
Who is going to fund the NDDA’s director?
Judging from past experience, the group was unable to survive on its own membership dues and fundraisers without a boost from the city.
So it seems clear that if the NDDA is going to return to its past levels and hire a full-time, paid director that it’s either going to need outside funding help or dramatically change its membership-business model.
Assuming outside funding is the key, the game of finger pointing has begun.
The city, or at least the mayor, has suggested that NDDA is simply an economic development concern, thus Natchez Inc. should take the reins and pay the ticket.
Natchez Inc., while not outright dismissing the idea, suggests, perhaps, the Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce would be a good adoptive family for NDDA.
The chamber — like most other non-profit agencies — says it has no funds to help pay for an additional employee.
What if the right answer for NDDA’s future was, none of the above?
Natchez Inc. has neither the time nor the financial resources to absorb NDDA.
Besides, Natchez Inc. is funded by a number of sources — including many private dollars. These funding sources didn’t necessarily write checks to support the NDDA, they wrote checks to lure new jobs to the area.
Likewise, the chamber’s role is to support its membership base. Unless all the downtown businesses who would benefit from a revived NDDA were chamber members — and that’s certainly possible, though it seems unlikely — that’s probably not a good fit, either.
The most likely “fit” is to have the Natchez CVB get involved. The CVB seems to have an abundance of cash when it seeks to send its employees on trips around the country, and it’s spent gobs of money on website redevelopment.
Couldn’t an accountant work up the math to determine how much of the CVB’s operating budget is derived from sales tax coming from downtown businesses, then devote a portion of that to “giving back” to the businesses who support the CVB?
Natchez’s downtown is important and deserves to be treated as the treasure it is.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.