City receives MDOT funds for depot restoration project
NATCHEZ — State and local officials gathered at the former railroad depot on the bluff Friday morning for the presentation of a big help for the city’s depot restoration project.
Mississippi Department of Transportation Southern District Transportation Commissioner Tom King handed over an oversized $500,000 check to city officials as a symbol of the funding MDOT is providing for the depot project.
King said MDOT will give the city $250,000 more in the spring of 2014 for the project.
The city is partnering with Alcorn State and Mississippi State universities to renovate the depot and relocate the Natchez Farmers Market to the bluff.
Preliminary plans include constructing an open-air pavilion for the Alcorn State extension program’s farmers market and turning the depot into a public product development facility with a demonstration kitchen.
Alcorn’s School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Science Dean Barry 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.
The MDOT funding is provided through the Transportation Alternatives Program funds and will require a 20-percent match.
The depot project will also connect to the Natchez Trails Project, the city’s ongoing transportation project that has added walking trails and sidewalks downtown, because the depot will serve as a visitor reception center for the Trails, which will be integrated into the redevelopment of the area.
The depot’s space would have a demonstration kitchen that could be used for educational or commercial purposes. The depot would also house public restrooms, meeting and possible office and classroom space.
Mississippi State and Alcorn State officials have said they are hoping to house joint educational opportunities in the depot, from distance learning to hands-on continuing education courses.
Officials have also said the demonstration kitchen could be rented for product development purposes, educational and entrepreneurial training.
Natchez is a significant city in Mississippi, King said.
“It has its own place in history,” he said.
Mayor Butch Brown thanked MDOT for its support of the depot project and many other projects in the city. Brown also thanked the local and state officials that are also responsible for the financial support, as well as volunteers who have contributed to the project.
“One of the great things that has happened in this city is the spirit of volunteerism,” he said.
The depot restoration will serve as a legacy project for the city’s tricentennial celebration in 2016, Brown said.
“It will last forever and help represent what this city has done in its first 300 years,” he said.
Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields, City Engineer David Gardner, City Clerk Donnie Holloway, County Supervisor and MSU Extension Service Director David Carter, Rep. Sam Mims, Rep. Robert Johnson, Sen. Kelvin Butler, Sen. Melanie Sojourner and other officials attended the ceremony.