Some wasted space can be a good thing

Published 12:32 pm Friday, April 13, 2007

I hate wasted space.

If you have ever been to Europe or a city with European roots, you know what I am talking about.

Travel in Italy, France or England and it would be a miracle if you didn’t stumble upon a large expanse of empty space surrounded by buildings.

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In Italy they call it a piazza. In France, a plaza or place. In England it’s a square.

If you had an ounce of American in you, your first response when entering one of these spaces would have to be,“What a waste.”

Sure you might be enticed by the romanticism of St. Mark’s Piazza in Venice. Who wouldn’t with all the beautiful people dressed in black, sipping espresso under gothic arches while a mandolin plays in the background.

And sure, there might be something tantalizing about feeding the birds in Trafalgar square — as if Mary Poppins might appear.

And certainly enjoying a stroll down the Spanish Steps toward the Trevi fountain would be nice, like something right out of the movies.

You don’t even have go very far from Natchez to stumble upon one of these wastelands.

Just three hours south is Jackson Square, sitting right in the middle of the New Orleans French Quarter.

What a waste, sipping chicory coffee and eating beignets while admiring artwork on the sidewalk

But that’s just for vacation, right? Who would ever want such a space for everyday life?

I mean finding such a space in America is downright luxurious — too expensive for everyday tastes.

If such an expanse of land ever existed in an American town, it would have been paved over immediately.

In America, the dollar bill reigns and nothing is more wasteful than unused space. Empty space doesn’t earn money.

Take the lot in front of the Natchez Convention Center. Now under construction on that site is a new convention center hotel.

In the past few weeks I have been taking my daily walk around the hotel’s site dreaming about the possibilities for this piece of land.

Walking along Broadway Street, I imagine a long expanse of a building, reminiscent of the old cotton warehouse which once stood on that very spot with its three-story high walls and towers hovering over the Mississippi River Bluff.

From the hotel to the convention center, I envision people strolling in the shade of a long line of trees. In the middle of the brick path would be a fountain surrounded by benches, where residents and conventioneers munch on sandwiches and other snacks.

Hiking up Franklin Street, I picture in my mind a place where those visiting Natchez enjoy a well-designed set of buildings that says “Welcome to Natchez.” Over time, the space could become what Jackson Square is to New Orleans — a place that draws people and becomes an advertisement for the city.

But all of those images are just dreams, I am afraid.

When first introduced to the Natchez Preservation Commission, the hotel concept included a U-shaped brick building with detailing reminiscent of the Eola Hotel with a parking garage hidden in the middle. Surrounded by herringbone brick sidewalks, the hotel design seemed to fit well with its surroundings.

Over time, the design has been slowly whittled away. No longer is the building U-shaped. No longer is there a parking garage. The herringbone sidewalks are gone, as well.

A cheaper building with cheaper materials has replaced a design that had possibilities.

With the hotel only filling up a quarter of the site along Broadway Street, the remainder of the block will be little more than an expanse of parking surrounded by iron fencing.

Instead of a relaxed walk, conventioneers will have to sweat across asphalt in the middle of summer to walk to the convention center.

Unlike those plazas and piazzas of Europe, at least one thing is for certain — the space will not be wasted.

Ben Hillyer is the Web Editor for the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at