Riverfront wide open for development

Published 12:29 am Sunday, November 9, 2008

NATCHEZ — From a bench on the bluff, the Natchez riverfront is just perfect.

Ask Natchez native Tiffany Cameron, and she’ll tell you all about it.

The benches, picnic tables and soon-to-be walking trails are just enough, Cameron said Saturday morning from her perch on the bluff.

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But her friend Jano Simon of Baton Rouge thought more could be done to bolster it.

Simon said Baton Rouge has done several things on its riverfront — the planetarium and a couple of casinos. The city has plans for an animal exhibit.

“We just finished a 10-mile bike trail, it runs on the levee,” he said.

He said one thing Natchez could do to attract more people to the riverfront is have weekly activities.

He said every Friday, Baton Rouge will have “Live after Five” where bands will set up and play concerts.

Natchez isn’t the size of Baton Rouge, but city leaders and residents have long debated the best way to develop the riverfront to attract the most visitors.

Natchez shares its position as one of only a handful of Mississippi River towns in the South with New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg, Greenville and Memphis, among a few others.


The Memphis Riverfront Development Corporation was established to find out what local residents wanted to see on the riverfront, RDC Communications Director Dorchelle Spence said.

“We learned that people wanted to use the river, be near the water and enjoy amenities on the riverfront,” she said.

Despite knowing they wanted to see something done by the river, Spence said the residents didn’t know exactly what they wanted or how to attain it.

“As a result of that process, the Riverfront Development Corporation was formed to focus strategically on public land around the river,” Spence said.

The process began by creating a long-range plan, she said, and answering questions such as how to enhance public access to the water and how to connect the downtown area to the riverfront.

The existing Memphis riverfront and plans to expand it include sidewalks and trails that provide a scenic walk for residents.

Another major project being launched by the RDC is the Beale Street Landing, which will essentially be a terminal for the street and will allow walking, jogging and cycling space, while connecting an existing park and another landing.

“It is a civic project that will allow citizens to actually touch the Mississippi River,” Spence said. “Right now, you can look at the river and you can put a boat, canoe or kayak in the river, but you can’t physically touch the river.”

The way the facility is going to be built will allow visitors to get up close and personal with the river.


The City of Greenville is also constantly working to develop its riverfront.

One of the major projects that was recently completed in September is Wharfield Point Park, a six-mile All-terrain vehicle trail.

Project Director Walley Morse said there is already an existing 150-acre park in place, and city leaders wanted to develop something that would bring more people out.

“We got to talking, and we came up with the idea for an ATV trail,” he said.

But the trail also has other amenities, like an observation platform and raised wooden walkways.

“We’ve actually done a good bit in developing this to encourage people to come out here,” Morse said.

So far, he said the local response has been excellent, and the city wants to continually have festivals and events at the park to encourage more visitors.

He said with a riverfront like Greenville has, where you can walk within 30 feet of the water, it needs to be developed.

Morse said monies came from the local, state and federal level.

“It’s been relatively simple because it’s a great project. It’s hard not to give money,” he said.


In the Miss-Lou, Vidalia has worked to add many things to its riverfront.

Mayor Hyram Copeland said planning for riverfront development began in 1992 with a series of public meetings and the development of a master plan.

“Naturally, we had to see who wanted to come to the riverfront and discuss with them what they had in mind,” Copeland said.

After developing a plan and receiving appropriations from the state, the riverfront has an amphitheater, convention center, a privately owned hotel and two medical complexes. A marina is under construction.

All in all, the project is an investment worth between $75 and $80 million.

And Copeland is still looking toward the future. He said the city is looking to get a $55,000 grant to put up more benches and swings and “Rails and Trails” money to extend the river walk to make it a complete loop.

Natchez continues to move forward with the Natchez Trails Project.

The project, which includes walking trails through downtown Natchez, plans to put biking and walking trails on the bluff and also trails down Silver Street, Roth Hill and Learned Mill roads and along the bank of the river.

The wooded area of the bluff will have a raised timber bridge walkway through it as well.

Trails Chairman David Gardner said it was essential that, in this project, the riverfront be developed, as well.

“It’s very important,” he said. “We want that area because that’s the area you can jog and bike.”

With the downtown walking trails, he said it’s too urbanized to allow for such recreational activities.

The walking trails will also have historical markers, and Gardner said the river is a great place of history.

“There’s so much history to be told along that river, you don’t want to miss out on that opportunity,” Gardner said.

Also, Natchez Enterprises, a company planning to build a casino on Roth Hill Road, has said they will partner with the trails project in adding some amenities, like water features, to the project.

Mayor Jake Middleton said having Natchez Enterprises come and help with the riverfront development is key.

He said he would like to see the riverfront continue to be developed,

“I think we’re missing the boat by not doing something down there,” he said. “Maybe we can in the future.”