HUD to help at Forks of Road site

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2008

NATCHEZ — On a rainy Friday morning, the moods of city officials could not be dampened as they announced at City Hall plans to build an interpretative center at the Forks of the Road site.

The planning is in its very initial stages but on Thursday, a representative from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development visited the city and the Forks of the Road site.

Bob Young, assistant deputy secretary in the office of field policy and management for HUD, said he wants to help Natchez find funds for building an interpretative center.

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Young said there is a grant called Preservation American, which deals with heritage tourism, that the city could apply for that would help fund the project.

Young said he was impressed with the city and the story the Forks of the Road site has to tell.

“What an incredible asset you have,” Young said.

He said this will be economic development for Natchez, as it will bring in more tourists — specifically heritage tourists.

“People who travel for heritage tourism spend more money,” Young said.

He even said statistics point out that heritage tourists typically spend, on average, an extra night at their destination.

Natchez also had another visitor who is excited about developing an interpretative center on the Forks of the Road site — Grover Mouton, director of the Regional Urban Design Center in the School of Architecture at Tulane University.

Mouton will partner with Natchez in planning and creating this project.

“I consider Natchez to be one of the most important cities in the Deep South,” he said.

He went even further in stating the importance of the Forks of the Road.

“This is the most extraordinary opportunity in American,” he said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for everyone in the nation to come to terms with a period in American history correctly.”

Though there are no time projections for the interpretative center, Mouton said planning the project is going to take a considerable amount of time.

“This is such an important story that we want to do this right,” Mouton said.

He said there needs to be community involvement in the planning process.

“This is a community vision,” he said.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis said the city could consider looking at other sites around the country that are focused on heritage tourism.

Young said getting inspiration from other sites would be good, but Natchez should not copy other sites.

“(Forks of the Road) is unique to this city,” he said. “You don’t want to copy what someone does but compliment what someone does.”

Mayor Phillip West said he is pleased to have both Mouton and Young working to help the city bring this project to fruition.

Young’s trip to Natchez was two-fold, in that he was also looking at opportunities to build affordable housing.

He said West has informed him of the employment opportunities that will pour in with Rentech and the new casinos coming to the area.

“Work force housing is critical,” Young said. “The city needs housing for people who will work and that housing has to be affordable.”