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City officials analyzing use, sale of its 215 properties

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez CIty Hall, from top left, the North Union Street water tower, Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, an empty lot at the corner of South Bluebird Drive and Kelly Avenue, Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campus and an empty lot near the old Titan Tire factory are among the 215 properties the City of Natchez owns.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez CIty Hall, from top left, the North Union Street water tower, Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center, an empty lot at the corner of South Bluebird Drive and Kelly Avenue, Copiah-Lincoln Community College Natchez campus and an empty lot near the old Titan Tire factory are among the 215 properties the City of Natchez owns.

NATCHEZ — By sheer number of parcels, the largest property owner in the City of Natchez is, well, the City of Natchez.

The city owns approximately 215 properties, a number that is both surprising to city officials and perhaps a bit misleading.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard, who is chair of the public properties committee, said he did not know how many properties the city owned.

“I am kind of surprised that it’s 215,” Dillard said.

The property count comes from the Adams County Tax Assessor’s office, but some of the parcels are so small they only represent rights-of-way or sewer lift stations.

The point, Mayor Butch Brown said, is that not all of the city’s property is valuable in the sense that it easily could be sold for a profit.

The City is in the midst of identifying surplus properties to sell, Brown said. The Natchez Board of Aldermen can declare a property as surplus if city leaders determine the land is of no use to the city.

The city recently advertised for bids on several properties including the Main Street building beside Cotton Alley Café. The building recently was  used as Magnolia Bluffs Casino’s office. In addition, bids were sought for the former Sunshine Shelter, the former Waste Management property on Monroe Street and a parcel of property near the Isle of Capri warehouse on Canal Street.

No bids were submitted for the Sunshine Shelter, and the board rejected the bids for the other properties because the city thought they were too low. The city, Brown said, will likely re-advertise for bids in an attempt to get higher bids.

Brown said the city is also attempting to identify unused properties it owns downtown that can be used for a scattered site housing project in the works.

But the city has some properties, Brown said, that just are not valuable.

“We’ve got lots of that stuff around … properties that have been lost to the river or a bayou or to kudzu,” he said.

Other city-owned properties, Dillard said, may serve a purpose, but are not necessarily valuable or sellable.

“There’s a whole bunch of little parcels … rights-of-way or that have a lift station on them that somehow or another we have ended up with,” he said.

Dillard said he has obtained lists from the tax assessor’s and city clerk’s offices in an attempt to get a handle on how much and what kind of properties the city owns.

A random sampling of the list of 215 properties showed the city owns an empty lot on Kelly Avenue across for the former tire plant, the Madison Street park, which is actually divided into four lots, a small Hammett Street parcel that houses a lift station and co-owns with Adams County the property on which Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus sits.

Brown said in Duncan Park, the city has an old plantation barn and the old pro shop that has not been used for years. The historic barn would be costly to restore, he said, but the old pro shop could be used to house the recreation commission’s office if the plan to expand the city’s recreation services at Duncan Park comes together, Brown said.

Dillard said he is concentrating first on the obvious public properties that require the most evident maintenance: occupied structures.

Of the city’s 215 properties, 42 of them are structures that include City Hall, council chambers, the library, four fire stations, Auburn antebellum, the Angeletty House, Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum, City Auditorium and more, according to the city clerk’s office.

“Many of these properties require maintenance, and that’s an ongoing expense for the city,” Brown said. “We find ourselves the owner of things like the old Natchez Housing Authority facility, the Angeletty house, places that need routine maintenance, grass-cutting, heating and cooling.”

The best way for the city to handle those expenses, Brown said, is to not own properties it is not using.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who say those public properties are valuable and the city should own them and maintain them,” he said. “Every time you think about selling or removing one of these properties (from the city’s inventory), you’re goring someone else’s ox.”

The city will continue, Brown said, to attempt to put properties it does not use or need for future use back on the tax roll by selling them.

“If someone sees a piece of property they think they can make better use of, we wish they would call us,” he said.

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