Downtown Natchez bill dies with the Senate

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &045;&045; A provision to issue $10 million in bonds to redevelop downtown Natchez did not pass the state Senate Tuesday, but at least one local legislator thinks it could be added to the final bill.

The proposal, originally House Bill 1691, was folded into House Bill 1720, which would issue up to $20 million in bonds for projects in communities throughout the state. Those range from a National Guard readiness center in Clarksdale to roads in Lamar County.

An amendment added by the Senate strikes the original House language of the bill, including the $10 million Natchez bond provision.

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At the same time, it adds some components of the Mississippi Momentum economic development program, state Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, said late Wednesday afternoon.

But Dearing said he feels confident the bond provision, as well as $350,000 to fund a Camp Van Dorn Museum in Centreville and $1 million for a Natchez history museum, will be included in the final bill passed by a conference committee.

&uot;I’ve got assurances from the Finance chairman, … so I feel good about it,&uot; Dearing said. He added that such amendments &045;&045; and the adding of provisions such as the bond measure &045;&045; &uot;happen 99 percent of the time&uot; in the Legislature.

Still, many legislators have expressed doubt many bond bills will make it through this session, given the fact that bond legislation was just passed in a legislative special session.

The bonds could be issued for any redevelopment purpose downtown, but those close to the project say the money would be used to make grants to improve facades of downtown buildings.

Proponents say the fa?ade grant program would further the cause of beautification and help attract new businesses, residents and tourists.

&uot;It would be tremendous&uot; if the provision survives and gets the governor’s signature, said Mayor Phillip West, himself a former legislator. &uot;I’ve got my fingers crossed … and my toes.&uot;

The deadline for adoption of conference reports to be filed is March 28, although motions to reconsider can be heard the following day. If passed, the bill would then head to Gov. Haley Barbour for his signature.