Candidates focus on tourism in forum

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2004

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Two Natchez mayoral candidates agreed Wednesday night that

tourism is important to Natchez and spelled out their thoughts on boosting that industry.

At the Concerned Citizens for Natchez Tourism forum Wednesday night at The Burn, businessman Richard Branyan and state Rep. Phillip West answered citizens’ questions about tourism submitted to the group. Alderwoman and candidate Sue Stedman was invited but did not attend, organizers said.

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Branyan focused on the need to better market Natchez through signage, promotions and advertising. &uot;I got in this race because I think Natchez needs to promote tourism better,&uot; Branyan said.

&uot;Without tourism, this town would be in a much worse place than it is,&uot; he said in his closing statement.

West talked about marketing Natchez as a destination, a place that people want to come to for numerous reasons.

&uot;You have to sell Natchez and not a certain segment of the community,&uot; he said.

West said he could &uot;sell this city throughout the state and nation as a unique place.&uot;

West talked about adding facilities such as a recreational complex and a natatorium to not only bring tourists but for the citizens of the community.

Both candidates talked about losing out to Louisiana when it comes to development and tourism.

Branyan said tour buses are going to Frogmore and eating in Vidalia so they don’t have to pay the $1 a head fee for motor coaches.

&uot;I think we need to develop the riverfront as Vidalia has done,&uot; West said.

When asked if the candidates felt pursuing industry would be at odds with tourism, both candidates said the two go hand-in-hand.

West said that is a perception but a contradiction. &uot;We need to have other kinds of jobs … to enhance one another.&uot;

Branyan said tourism in the 1930s brought industries to Natchez. &uot;That’s what tourism does, it grows and expands.&uot;

Branyan said the motor coach fee &uot;is killing tourism&uot; and he would get rid of it.

While West said he is not familiar with the fee but he conceptually opposes it if it does have a negative effect on bringing tourists, as Branyan suggested.

Branyan said the bus system needs to be improved and even suggested the city partner with the casino to provide better bus service. West said he would like to see a free transportation service in the community but cost would definitely be a factor.

Many questions revolved around activity in downtown, or lack thereof. Branyan said supporting more nightlife downtown was a &uot;double-edged sword&uot; but he would love to see activity downtown, and not just more bars but events. &uot;We (downtown business owners) would be happy to do it (host events) if we knew the people would come,&uot; he said.

West said he remembers a time when there were many people downtown and said the lack of quality jobs and downturn in population have caused the standstill.

As far as businesses opening on Sundays is concerned, West said he would be in favor of tax breaks for small businesses but he does not know if a tax break for opening on Sundays is the answer. Branyan said he would suggest suspending the inventory tax for new businesses to make start up easier.