Small budget doesn’t deter Gardner from thinking big

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 19, 2006

NATCHEZ &045; With her certification as a Main Street manager, Tammi Gardner is ready to take the Natchez Downtown Development Association to new levels.

The Natchez program received recertification &045; an annual requirement &045; for 2005; and Gardner received manager certification in March.

What does it mean? Doug Loescher, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street program, said organizations are certified based on evaluations of skills needed to succeed and on commercial revitalization programs.

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Criteria includes having a board of directors and paid professional manager. &uot;Having a solid organization at the foundation of that revitalization effort is so important to long term success,&uot; Loescher said.

Michael Cates, president of the Downtown Development board of directors, said the Main Street program in Natchez may have started on shaky ground years ago, but he believes the organization now is solid and performing well.

&uot;Main Street programs share a central mission,&uot; Cates said. &uot;Here in Natchez we specifically focus on revitalizing downtown, not by pouring funds into downtown &045; we don’t have that kind of money &045; but to foster the environment to spur on the revitalization.&uot;

The Downtown Development Association received its first Main Street designation in 1998, having started as a Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce Committee. Years before, Main Street programs started but stopped because of funding difficulties.

Gardner was on the Chamber committee in 1998 and was a downtown business owner at the time. A couple of years later, when she had closed her business, she received the call to head the NDDA.

&uot;We named it Downtown Development because the Main Street program had failed twice and also because we didn’t want the business owners to think we were just for Main Street. We wanted to cover the whole area of the city,&uot; Gardner said.

And that is what she and the board have set out to do, taking on projects that help the downtown with &uot;economic restructuring, things that need help such as beautification, empty buildings, parking, ordinances that can address the problem of out-of-town property owners,&uot; she said. &uot;We help to deal with issues like that and to bring them to the forefront.&uot;

The association has become a kind of clearing house, Gardner said. She receives calls that range from how to have a wedding in Natchez to what to do about cigarette butts in the gutters.

&uot;People call thinking I will know the answers. Often I can tell them where to go,&uot; she said.

Cates said he wants the association to be another kind of clearing house, one that can be a collective voice for merchants.

&uot;Downtown Development should be a clearing house for ideas, solutions to problems, promoting merchants collectively and funding promotions to bring people downtown, both visitors and locals,&uot; he said.

&uot;Tammi has done a great job, and we have the best board we’ve had in years. I’m real hopeful we’ll take on a more permanent role and become the coordinating umbrella organization.&uot;

One accomplishment of the past year include the creation of a &uot;Shopaholics Downtown&uot; brochure promoting downtown merchants and funded through the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The second printing of 10,000 was distributed to the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., downtown merchants, NCVB and the Chamber of Commerce.

&uot;We’re out of the brochures again, and I think the Isle of Capri is going to help us fund the next printing,&uot; Gardner said.

Further, beautification efforts have included coordinating fall and spring clean-up drives, working on the Mayor’s Committee on Beautification and assisting Keep Natchez-Adams County Beautiful and Chamber of Commerce on beautification projects, for example.

Downtown Development has played key roles in organizing community Christmas events, such as the parade and lighting of the tree. The organization has begun a project to decorate the bluff area for Christmas, as well.

One of the most satisfying areas of her work is providing one-on-one assistance for downtown businesses, Gardner said.

&uot;There were two different business owners who were about to close their businesses,&uot; she said. &uot;I asked some Mississippi Development Authority people to come to talk to them. They were outsiders and had fresh looks at everything. I’m happy to say both of these business owners are still in business and very successful.&uot;

Being able to call on people within the network that includes her agency is important in cases such as those, she said. &uot;I’m able to call

on people on another level and get a lot of help and a lot of ideas.&uot;

Funding for Downtown Development comes from private and public funding, including $25,000 from the City of Natchez. The private funding comes from memberships and gifts that range from $25 to $1,000.

&uot;I wish the county would be on board with us,&uot; Gardner said, referring to Adams County supervisors, who have provided $5,000. &uot;Downtown is the heart of their county. Our downtown vitality is their vitality. For Main Street programs to work, they have to be public-private partnerships, and in most places the programs are county funded.