Local leaders hope proposed restaurant sparks new interest in Tracetown

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 20, 2001

A Ruby Tuesdays restaurant proposed for the Tracetown Shopping Center may be just the boost local leaders have been looking for to revitalize the shopping center.

The restaurant chain’s regional office based in Mobile, Ala., is considering building new restaurants in four communities in southwestern Mississippi, including one in Natchez.

The Natchez Metro Planning Commission approved a site plan for the proposed restaurant Thursday and a resubdivision of the property, managed by J.W. Properties Inc. of Mobile. Plans call for the restaurant to be built on the site of the old Tracetown McDonald’s, between Britton & Koontz bank and the new McDonald’s.

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Barry Williams, landscape architect for Arkansas-based Richburg Rickett Consulting Engineers, represented Ruby Tuesdays at the meeting. Williams said the company is only considering Natchez at this time and negotiations, including who will pay for the construction of an access road and reworking of the intersection with John R. Junkin Drive, are ongoing between the company and the property owner.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation agreed with city officials during the administration of former Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown to rework the intersection and frontage road if the city could draw an &uot;anchor&uot; development to the shopping center.

In 1999, city officials tried to entice Albertson’s to build a grocery store at the location, but the Boise, Idaho-based company decided after at least two site visits not to pursue a store at Tracetown.

Had Albertson’s put a store in Natchez, the retailer would have spent up to $5 million and the developer would spend more than $5.5 million to renovate Tracetown.

Brown said Friday he is &uot;confident&uot; MDOT will follow through with its commitment, but he is not sure Ruby Tuesdays qualifies as an &uot;anchor&uot; in MDOT’s eyes. Still, &uot;anytime highway work generates sales tax revenues, (MDOT) is going to have to take a look at those first,&uot; he said.

Brown said he is pleased Natchez is being considered for a national restaurant chain and believes it is a &uot;testament&uot; to the marketing staff at the Natchez Visitors and Convention Bureau. &uot;I think anytime a chain-style restaurant comes to Natchez, I think it sends a message that we’re doing something right when it comes to tourism,&uot; he said.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux said she believes a Ruby Tuesdays would help draw other developers to the shopping center.

&uot;We need to do something to spur the revitalization of all those mini-malls,&uot; Arceneaux said. The city has also tried to market Magnolia Mall on U.S. 61 North to developers.

Sue Stedman, Ward 3 Alderwoman and public properties chairperson also remembers MDOT’s agreement to rework the intersection at the shopping center, but she too wonders if highway department officials would consider Ruby Tuesdays an &uot;anchor.&uot;

Williams said no local developers or contractors are involved in the project at this time, and he is not aware of any talks between the city and Ruby Tuesdays.

Ward 6 Alderman Jake Middleton said he and other aldermen were pleasantly &uot;taken off guard&uot; when they learned earlier this week Ruby Tuesdays was interested in Natchez and the shopping center.

&uot;I just hate to ride through there and see those empty stores,&uot; he said.

&uot;When somebody takes a step like (Ruby Tuesdays has), it says a lot,&uot; he said.