Take a look at whats ahead for Miss-Lou

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2005


Kerry Whipple


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The Natchez Democrat

You can certainly get a different perspective on Natchez from 1,500 feet.

A few weeks ago, courtesy of a sunset flight from local pilot Dr. Tom Borum, I was peering down at our city from a height close enough to see my husband&8217;s car in front of our apartment building and just far enough to marvel at just how vast the systematic dismantling of the former International Paper mill has been.

But after more than two years of little more than harsh economic news, the Miss-Lou seems to be on the verge of quite a merry Christmas season, if some early gifts come to fruition.

Just more than a week ago, county officials announced that Denver-based fuel manufacturer Rentech hopes to build a coal gasification plant at the site of the former Belwood Country Club.

That would mean an investment of up to $750 million in our community, along with 200 good-paying jobs once the plant is up and running, perhaps by 2010.

In the meantime, if financing and state and federal incentives come through, construction on the Rentech plant could bring at peak 1,500 construction jobs to our area.

They may not be permanent, but that does bring a temporary boost to our economy, and every little bit helps.

Last week, Florida developer Charles Cato got final approval for a $70 million casino development.

Cato says he plans to close in December on a deal to buy the Ramada Inn Hilltop, which he will renovate as part of the development.

All told, he&8217;s promised about 400 jobs for the area, including the hotel and casino.

Riverside Central Services at the Adams County Port has sold to a developer who&8217;s been involved in successful projects around the state, including the new Bass Pro Shop in Pearl.

Meanwhile, county and economic development officials inch ever closer to closing a deal on the International Paper site, which could help turn the old paper mill into an industrial park of sorts.

The pessimist that lurks in all of us &8212; some a little larger than others &8212; could dismiss these prospects as little more than pipe dreams until someone starts laying bricks and mortar.

You have to acknowledge that pessimism. Since the closing of the IP mill and the loss of more than 600 jobs, we haven&8217;t seen much good economic news that panned out in the way we hoped.

And many of these projects are, granted, still in the early stages.

We&8217;ve been close for quite a while on the IP deal, and Cato has been talking about a casino development for the better part of two years. His bid to buy the Ramada has already fallen through once.

Not to mention, Rentech&8217;s coal gasification process itself is quite new &8212; although the basis for it dates to the 1920s. And there&8217;s no guarantee the company could get the federal and state incentives it needs to set up shop here.

Does all of that pessimism sound familiar? It&8217;s probably what a few naysayers have been spouting for the last few days.

But consider this: Rentech just secured more than half of the financing it needs to launch a similar project in Illinois, and those same financial backers are interested in the Natchez deal.

Cato&8217;s final approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission means he does have the financing needed to build his development, and he&8217;s set a timeline that would put the casino opening sometime next year.

And county officials seem to be on the edge of their seats waiting to announce something new on the horizon.

Being the pessimist is the easy way out. It&8217;s a lot more satisfying to be on the side that believes we&8217;re going to win a lot of the battles we have ahead.

And when you&8217;re optimistic, life looks better at 1,500 feet or on the ground.

Kerry Whipple

Bean is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at