Has city hit triple twist with idea?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2010

Natchez on ice: It has a nice ring to it, and more often than not lately it has felt like Natchez was, in fact, on ice.

With temperatures that sank to near record lows earlier this month, perhaps it’s fitting that Natchez tourism officials are considering ways to add a bit of winter wonderland to the city’s new Christmas in Natchez events.

The idea of putting up a temporary, public ice-skating rink on the Natchez bluff is under consideration.

Natchez Convention and Visitor Bureau leaders point to Marshall, Texas, as an example of a successful ice rink endeavor.

The Texas city has seen success recently in offering up a decidedly northern experience to some normally hot-weathered southerners.

Ice skating has been a big hit in Marshall, but before we all run out and buy skates, obviously, much more research is needed to determine if the idea has a good chance of gliding to success here.

Ice-skating in Mississippi may seem at first like a crazy notion, and it may be. But we don’t have enough information yet to know if it even has a reasonable chance of success.

One suggestion though is that the CVB should help with the research now that they’ve thrown the idea out there, but such a thing would be best be done by the private sector.

Ultimately CVB resources should be focused on the bigger task of effectively marketing our area across the state, region, country and world.

If bringing an ice-skating rink can truly be a money maker, perhaps, a group such as the Natchez Downtown Development Association — which has struggled with money woes since the city cut its funding last year — could take it on as a project.

Increasingly, groups such as NDDA need to be self-sufficient and less dependent on public funding, particularly in light of current and, likely, future public funding shortfalls.

The City of Natchez poorly handled the cutting of its support of NDDA last year. Greater notice should have been given to allow the group to figure out a way to plan for the $25,000 a year loss to its operating budget.

Fortunately for NDDA, the Natchez-Adams County Development Authority stepped in and made up half the difference in the loss of city funds.

But ultimately, perhaps the city shouldn’t have been underwriting the organization in the first place.

Natchez has too many groups and has, for far too many years, depended on taxpayers to fund all public projects.

The private funding support of the Natchez Trails Project and private funding of the still-forming Natchez Inc., economic development group are great examples of exceptions to that.

In both instances, private citizens and private businesses saw the need to contribute and did so. Obviously, both projects still require public funding to make them fly, but both also have greater overall long-term impact than would an ice-skating rink.

Making Natchez truly “tourist friendly” will require lots of work — both public and private.

Publicly, we need to get all the major streets upgraded — some of which is in the works. We need clear signage all throughout the city directing visitors to areas in which they might have interest.

And, we need public restrooms that are clearly marked. The visitors center has some, but are there public restrooms downtown?

Who knows if an ice-skating rink will fly in Natchez? Maybe we should try it, but hopefully some of our area’s entrepreneurs — not our taxpayers — will invest the cold, hard cash.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.