Plans begin for Forks of the Road

Published 1:00 am Sunday, June 8, 2008

NATCHEZ — Thanks to half of a million dollars from the state, a plan is being set in motion to develop an interpretive center at the Forks of the Road site.

Mayor-elect Jake Middleton said the $500,000 will really kick start the project.

“I want to move forward with the Forks of the Road project,” Middleton said. “A lot of work has already been put into it and it needs to be completed.

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“I’m just glad to see we got the money and that we can move forward with this project.”

The city has partnered with Grover Mouton, director of the Regional Urban Design Center in the School of Architecture at Tulane University, to bring this to fruition.

Mouton said the money will be used to create a comprehensive plan for the development of this site.

A conceptual plan, or design, has already been developed but the true plan is yet to come, he said.

“Now we have a draft we have to really develop,” Mouton said. “We really need to sit down and do this correctly.”

He said using the grant money, professional researchers and planning specialists can be hired to create a plan.

“Then we take our design work and make it better,” he said.

Mouton guessed the project would cost between $20 and $25 million based on centers he’s worked on in the past.

Mouton has assisted in planning and developing three interpretive centers — a women’s right center in Seneca Falls, N.Y., and two civil rights centers in Birmingham and Knoxville.

He said he was excited to be working on developing an interpretive center.

“I think it’s going to become one of the most important sites in America,” he said.

One thing that Mouton said is being considered is the acquisition of more land.

“The city only owns one third of what was on the site,” Mouton said.

Ser Seshs Ab Heter- C.M. Boxley, coordinator of the Friends of the Forks of the Road, said the properties across the street from the site right now, Custom Exteriors and Natchez Exhaust Services, are the best sites to acquire right now.

“Those are the two crucial private ownerships that needs to be immediately brought into public domain,” Boxley said.

He said that’s because it’s the site of the Franklin and Armfield operation, one of the largest slave trading operations in the country.

In addition to it being an important site, a lot of documented research currently exists on it.

“As an urban planner, if I was trying to move this thing along, I would be more interested in the site that has the most available information to be immediately presented to the public consumer,” Boxley said.

Another method of acquiring that land would be through the National Park Service.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said a boundary study is currently being conducted.

This study is to determine whether the site meets the criteria to be added to the park service.

Then, the Natchez park could negotiate in acquiring that land.