Ex-planner may consult on riverfront

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 19, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A former Natchez city planner soon may return as a consultant on bluff and riverfront development.

Phil Walker, city planner from 1991 to 1993, was in town Wednesday to discuss with city and other officials potential uses of land along the Mississippi River and at two sites bordering Broadway.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith said bringing in someone like Walker is part of the city’s commitment to work closely with all agencies and organizations that have interest in how the city property is developed along the river and at two sites on the bluff.

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Those agencies will be invited to take part in planning from the very beginning, Smith said, including Mississippi Department of Archives and History, National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Historic Natchez Foundation, for example.

&uot;They know him,&uot; Smith said of Walker, whose Natchez experience in the early 1990s included working with all of those groups when the first riverside casino came to Natchez Under-the-Hill. &uot;They know he will include their interests in the development plans. And we want their input and don’t want to adversely impact their plans in any way.&uot;

Walker now works in urban and regional planning, downtown redevelopment and historic preservation at his own firm, The Walker Collaborative, in Nashville, Tenn.

He said coming back to Natchez after a 10-year absence is exciting. &uot;And I know economic development and historic preservation can work hand in hand and benefit one another,&uot; Walker said. &uot;You can have a high-quality riverfront development and also protect the interests of preservation.&uot;

Two developers, both with gambling interests, are seriously considering the site at the foot of Roth’s Hill, the hotel site across the street from the Natchez Convention Center and the former Natchez Pecan Company property, all owned by the city.

Smith said developing those properties must be a priority for economic development. &uot;We know we have an attractive piece of property and know developing it can have an economic impact,&uot; he said. &uot;We have a $10-million convention center that will never live up to its potential until we get the hotel there.&uot;

Asked about his reaction to some residents’ suggestions that the city work with Alcorn State University to place the university’s planned performing arts center on the bluff at the pecan factory site, Smith expressed interest but said he had not heard of the suggestion.

Dr. Clinton Bristow, ASU president, also was unaware of the suggestion but said the idea definitely was one he would consider. &uot;Nothing is ever out of the question,&uot; he said.

In Ashland, Ore., a city profiled in a recent article in The Democrat because of its similarities to Natchez and its successes in solving some similar challenges, spokesmen there said efforts to focus on a thriving downtown had paid off, including having the three theaters used by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival all downtown and within walking distance of each other.

Walker said the city’s efforts to get all players working together before finalizing any plans is a good move. &uot;I think the mayor and city officials should be commended for taking such a pro-active position,&uot; he said. &uot;Having been away, I appreciate more what Natchez is all about and how well-known it is for its historic resources and for being an incredibly unique place.&uot;