City needs to be proactive at FBC site

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Natchez’s historic downtown is filled with great examples of wonderful lessons in historic preservation.

On almost every block lives a great story about how a precious historic building was saved from the brink of disaster.

On the other hand, almost every block also contains the flip side — a case in which because of man’s neglect, one of the city’s historic jewels is gone forever.

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The fate of the former First Baptist Church building on Main Street is a great example of what can go wrong when both good judgment and our city’s historic preservation laws are ignored.

The building had been in bad shape for years and years. But things got much worse in 2007, when developers swooped in — apparently without a solid plan and without proven financial backing — and removed the windows and some other items from the building.

The result rapidly sped up the deterioration of the already troubled building.

Now, the city planner suggests that the best move is to tear the building down. If, in fact, that becomes a foregone conclusion, rather than focusing on who is to blame, let’s focus on the lessons we can learn from the sad situation.

Natchez’s historic downtown is a huge economic attraction. Protecting it must be first and foremost in our community’s collective mind.

The former First Baptist Church site along with the recently vacated former Goodyear Tire location on the corner of Main and Martin Luther King Jr. streets have huge potential in shaping an important gateway into downtown.

City leaders should take a proactive role in making sure that both locations are developed into entities that will truly improve the function and attractiveness of the city.

Rather than sitting by and waiting for a private developer to come up with ideas, let’s think about what would best fit these locations and then go after them.