City breaks ground on new convention center

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Near-freezing temperatures Tuesday made for a brief groundbreaking ceremony for the downtown convention center, but the chilly winds couldn’t cool supporters’ enthusiasm for the project.

&uot;There’s so many people to thank so warmly today on this very cold day,&uot; Johnny Waycaster, project architect, said.

&uot;I’m proud not simply as an architect, but as a Natchezian,&uot; he said.

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Ward 4 Alderman Theodore &uot;Bubber&uot; West said he saw the ceremony as the end of a journey and the fulfillment of a commitment to the community.

&uot;Today is the day we have been waiting on,&uot; he said.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said the convention center should be viewed as an investment and an economic development tool for the city.

&uot;From all indications, it’s going to do a lot of good for this town,&uot; he said.

Smith said he still believes, as he did during the mayoral campaign earlier this year, the possibility of locating the convention center adjacent to the Natchez Visitors Reception Center should have been revisited.

&uot;But it’s going there (downtown), and I’m going to do as much as I can in any way I can to make it successful,&uot; he said. &uot;That’s the way I&160;look at it now.&uot;

As for those who may still be doubtful of the project, &uot;I think you’re going to see the naysayers are not going to back off until they see the economic impact the convention center will have,&uot; Smith said.

&uot;We have that ahead of us – seeing that we have the right people in there to market it and promote it,&uot; he said.

Walter Tipton, tourism director, said his office plans to send out about 300 press releases about the groundbreaking this week and begin booking for March 2002.

Laura Godfrey, Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the location of the convention center will benefit downtown businesses, where convention-goers will stay, eat and shop. &uot;That’s one of the beautiful things about the convention center being downtown,&uot; she said.

Sue Stedman, Ward 3 alderwoman and public properties chairwoman, also said the convention center will help &uot;stabilize&uot; the entire downtown area.

Ward 6 Alderman Jake Middleton pointed out that the convention center is part of a &uot;package&uot; that includes the recent renovation of the city auditorium and community center.

&uot;To me this is one of the biggest days in the city of Natchez,&uot; he said.

With the formalities out of the way, City Engineer David Gardner said the &uot;green light is on&uot; for construction to begin on the convention center within the next few days.

A preconstruction conference also held Tuesday gave all parties involved in the project &uot;a chance to coordinate their thoughts so we can have a smooth start,&uot; Gardner said.

Ward 5 Alderman David Massey said he is pleased that many local contractors were chosen for the project and many have agreed to buy much of their building supplies locally.

Not only will the project provide jobs during construction, but when completed, the convention center will be the &uot;tool the city has been looking for to increase sales tax receipts,&uot; Massey said.