Convention center is a good ideal for Natchez

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 2, 1999

I haven’t lived in Natchez long, but I’ve lived here long enough to be proud of it.

When friends and family visit, I can recite the history what I know of it of just about every house and building and piece of land they see.

And when we drive or walk down Canal Street between Main and Franklin, I point out the site of the new convention center.

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Long before I started working at The Democrat, city leaders had a plan and a vision for a convention center that could compete with cities like Hattiesburg and Alexandria, Va.

Every week, that vision becomes more of a reality. On Monday of this week, a group of community leaders everyone from city officials like Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown and City Planner David Preziosi to business owners like Clara Nell Brown and Scott Swinney met to begin discussing early details of the center.

They talked about parking.

They talked about how big the kitchen could be.

They talked about finding a design that fits historically with the downtown area.

And they talked about the role the convention center will have. Rather than a community center, this new complex will be designed as an economic development tool to attract people to Natchez.

As Mayor Brown said, you’ll have to have a big family or a big rich family to afford booking a family reunion in the new center.

The city just won’t be able to afford exceptions in the rates it will charge.

But just because the new convention center won’t be a community center, that doesn’t mean the community can’t give their input on the building.

The convention center won’t make millions of dollars on its own.

But it will begin bringing more people conventions, meetings, trade shows to Natchez.

And it’s up to Natchez to bring them back.

As I’ve learned in six months here, that won’t be hard to do.

Natchez is dripping with the kind of charm that makes people stop and peer in store windows and go inside for a better view. (I’m pretty proud of the fact that nearly every one of the Christmas gifts I gave last year came from Natchez).

We have the kind of restaurant menus that bring people back for more. (Only my waistline will regret my move to the city).

And, of course, we have the historic background that ties it all together.

Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau Sales Director Renee Adams pointed out at Monday’s meeting that what can bring conventions to Natchez are all the things spouses and children can do while the meetings are going on.

She has a very good point.

While I hope Natchez will build a beautiful convention center, it’s what we offer outside those board rooms and exhibition halls that really counts.

A friend visiting me last weekend told me she liked my &uot;little town.&uot; She’s not only a strong Southern belle, she’s also in the hospitality business herself, so she knows a little something about Southern charm.

I&160;hope that when we do build a new convention center, it’s the kind of place my friend would recommend people meet.

Mayor Brown wants the center to be built by the year 2000. That’s a pretty ambitious goal no matter how optimistic you are.

But I’ve covered the city long enough to know that can happen thanks to a lot of hard work on the part of city officials and employees.

And with the diversity of volunteers who are working on the fact-finding committee to plan for the new convention center, I think the expertise and creativity is right at our fingertips.

So if you have suggestions about the convention center, call one of the group members.

And if you have questions about it, call me. I’ll try to get them answered.

Kerry Whipple is a staff writer at The Natchez Democrat.