Keeping city’s character takes teamwork

Published 12:14 am Friday, October 26, 2007

Over the past years photographing for The Natchez Democrat, I have watched a lot of high school sports; football, basketball, and soccer to name a few.

And in that time, I have learned a lot about sports and a little about running a city.

Shooting a high school event is nothing like photographing the NFL or even SEC football.

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To me, the most fulfilling aspect of high school athletics is watching a player go from thinking as an individual to thinking as a teammate.

In high school, the athletes are just learning how to play the game, though they may dream about their futures in the big leagues.

At first, they try to show off and make a big splash. Sooner or later, those star wannabes discover that it takes working with the whole team to win and reach their goals.

Probably no one knows this better than Natchez alderman Ricky Gray, who has become a fixture at many local high school venues.

Gray has even used a similar sports analogy at the Minorville Jubilee, where he compared city and county leaders to a football team and the voters as the coach of the team.

That is why I was a bit dismayed by Gray’s comments at the most recent Natchez board of aldermen meeting where he questioned the right of any city board to dictate to an owner what they can do with his building.

Gray’s concerns focused on the old Baptist church on Main Street.

Owners of the church have recently removed the church’s stained glass windows. Concerned citizens have recently questioned whether permanent removal of the windows is allowed under the city’s historic preservation guidelines.

“If they want to take the windows out of a building they bought, what does the city have to do with it?” Gray said in response to the concerns brought up in the meeting Tuesday night.

Owning a building in downtown Natchez is like being on a football team.

When you purchase a building you know the rules of the game and that they include historic preservation guidelines.

Over the last few months the city has been preparing its game plan for the next few years, revisiting planning, preservation and sign ordinances.

City officials have placed their confidence in the downtown.

An impressive new hotel is being built across the street from the Natchez Convention Center.

Another casino may locate at the bottom of Roth’s Hill along the Mississippi River.

New walking trails are being planned along the river bluffs.

The new federal courthouse, a stellar example of historic preservation, is poised to be an economic engine of our town.

All of these developments depend upon a vibrant and energetic downtown.

The preservation of its character is one of the reasons Natchez is attractive.

Too many times, property owners see themselves as individuals and not as team members working for a common goal.

Some people complain that they are being treated unfairly because the historic preservation guidelines are too restrictive. Yet, it is because of the character that these guidelines preserve that many come to live in Natchez.

Many other cities in Mississippi and across the country have proven city residents working together with city leaders is a winning combination.

And historic preservation is an economic indicator. Go to Oxford, or Fairhope, Ala., or even Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga., and see what makes these communities successful.

It is not because individual owners worked independently. No, they realized by working together, within the rules, they could not only preserve their community but also increase their prosperity.

If you asked any high school athlete, they would recognize it as teamwork.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor at the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or