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Executive director outlines celebration plans, vision for future Natchez events

NATCHEZ — Natchez’s 300th birthday will be all about showcasing a city where the river is wide and the history runs deep.

That was the message delivered Wednesday by Jennifer Ogden Combs, a Natchez native, Emmy award-winning producer and executive director of the Natchez Tricentennial Commission.

Combs spoke to the Rotary Club of Natchez to give an update on the plans to help the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River celebrate its 300th birthday.

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to come together with every single aspect of our community to create something that will last long after we’re gone,” Combs said. “This is a once in a 300-year opportunity.”

The idea behind the celebration, Combs said, is a yearlong celebration with at least one event being hosted in the city each day.

“We’re going to have a party; we’re going to have a whole lot of parties,” she said. “But it’s going to be so much more than just parties.”

Combs said all the events being planned for the year should follow the commission’s mission, which is “to unify our community and create new business opportunities by commemorating our past, celebrating our present and creating our future.”

The future portion of the “three C’s statement,” as Combs called it, is the most important to helping ensure the city can celebrate another 300 years.

“The questions we want to ask ourselves when we’re booking these events are, is it unifying some aspects of the community and does it lead to economic development and growth?,” Combs said. “Those, to me, are the most important things about all of this.”

Combs cycled through a list of possible events that will be hosted starting Dec. 31, 2015, and going through Dec. 31, 2016.

Those events range from a 300-gun salute on the bluff to a 300-hole celebrity golf tournament to a variety of concerts and celebrations throughout the year.

Other tricentennial celebrations, Combs said, would be paired with existing events such as the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race or the Natchez Festival of Music.

Combs encouraged the Rotarians and anyone else in the area with a convention, event or celebration to reach out to the commission with the hopes of combining those with the tricentennial.

“The success of 2016 is entirely dependent on every single one of us and anyone who has ever called Natchez home,” Combs said. “I don’t care where they are in the world now, we’re going to reach out to them because we want them to participate in some aspect.”

The celebration, Mayor Butch Brown said after the Rotary meeting, is also a chance to leave a legacy behind of several projects that were completed and developed for the city’s 300th birthday.

Those include revitalizations of the Broadway Depot and St. Catherine Street as well as an expansion of the Natchez Trails to include permanent displays, exhibits and markers.

“We want all these things to live on and be known because of the tricentennial, and that’s why they’re all so important to that third ‘C,’” Brown said. “The timespan, 366 days, is a long time, so we’re looking for more and more events.”

Brown said that includes reaching for the stars at times and attempting to bring national attention to Natchez during its birthday celebration.

“I have a personal invitation to Bill Clinton, and I’m on his calendar for him to come during 2016,” Brown said. “I have requested that they hold the last presidential debate of the 2016 election here in Natchez like they did last time in Oxford.

“We hope at the end of the day, all of these things will make what some people think to be a sleepy town, come alive and wake up.”

Combs said a communitywide kick-off event would be hosted sometime in September for committee members to share and update residents on up-to-date tricentennial plans.

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