New Natchez residents: City is at a crossroads

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Stuart and Pat Margolin do not pretend to have all the answers about boosting the economy in Natchez and securing its future. They do have some words of caution, however: Be careful not to spoil a good thing.

&uot;I think we’re standing at a crossroad,&uot; Pat Margolin said. &uot;Natchez has some tough decisions to make. And the leadership is going to have to decide they want to protect not only jobs but the quality of life.&uot;

The Margolins moved to Natchez from a small island near Vancouver. Stuart described the rapid growth as the island community was discovered. &uot;The population grew from 2,400 to 11,000,&uot; he said.

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&uot;There is a blessing in remaining as remote as you are here in Natchez. Places I’ve seen that have maintained their charm and exclusivity have developed venues that bring in the tourists but don’t keep them there. Professional theater is one way to do that.&uot;

With his background as an actor and director, probably best known for the popular role of Angel Martin in &uot;The Rockford Files,&uot; Margolin already has begun to explore ways he can assist the community in establishing a professional theater.

He compared Natchez to the city of Ashland, Ore., where an annual Shakespeare festival draws throngs of visitors for many months out of the year. &uot;People were willing to drive six to seven hours to Ashland. And, believe me, there is no place more remote than Ashland.&uot;

Natchez has the perfect backdrop for such a theater. What Stuart Margolin envisions is a large theater complex in the heart of downtown or on the bluff. &uot;It is conceivable that it could happen here,&uot; he said.

Lorman-based Alcorn State University has been linked prominently in recent months to economic development ideas for Natchez &045; such suggestions as a technology park that would draw clean, high-tech businesses; and industries and a growing relationship between the economic development players and the Alcorn School of Business Administration, located in Natchez.

Alcorn State also could play a major role in introducing professional theater to Natchez, Stuart said. &uot;Alcorn is in the process of planning a performing arts center at the Natchez campus. I hope someone will talk to Dr. Bristow and convince him that in the long run for the success of his communiversity idea, he should find some real estate downtown and let a professional company be a part of that center and the key to establishing a first-rate school of drama for Alcorn.&uot;

Alcorn President Dr. Clinton Bristow introduced the idea of communiversity early in his presidency in the 1990s, describing a close relationship between the university and the people in nearby communities, Natchez being a major one.

Natchez has all the trappings to lure professionals to its doorstep. It is those trappings Pat Margolin found irresistible and those qualities she hopes will be protected into the distant future.

&uot;I sensed a community that has confidence and pride in itself &045; a lot of pride in the preservation of buildings, history and family,&uot; she said. &uot;Close attention has to be paid that we don’t put into jeopardy those things that make Natchez the place it is. The historical character of the town remains one of the most important things about Natchez.&uot;

Leaders should take a careful survey of all the kinds of people they represent, Pat Margolin said. &uot;There is a wide spectrum of people in Natchez. There are factory workers, small business owners, new doctors coming into town; the leadership has to take a close look at the demographics and say, ‘Who do we represent?’&uot;

Pat Margolin has been outspoken about precautions in luring another chemical company to Natchez. &uot;I just don’t want our leaders to make decisions based on desperation for jobs,&uot; she said.

What’s more, she sees empty buildings downtown that could be small manufacturing sites.&uot;We should have someone from Natchez at every graduation of the Parsons School of Design or the Rhode Island Design School, enticing young designers to come here to begin their careers. They leave those schools and they begin to design all kinds of things &045; lamps, furniture &045; and they manufacture them. We should recruit them right out of school,&uot; she said.

Indeed, that is precisely the kind of new way of thinking about industrial development that speaks of the future, Stuart Margolin said. &uot;I wonder how long people stood around in an era long ago in Natchez and said, ‘I wonder when cotton is coming back.’ We can’t just wait for it to be the way it used to be.&uot;

Pat agreed. &uot;Move forward. Think forward. That’s what we have to do.&uot;