Thanks for making Natchez shine

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 24, 2010

Anyone who was in Natchez the week of May 19 – 23 knows that Natchez shone like never before. Natchez was host to the American Association of State Transportation Officials national spring meeting, a very prestigious meeting of officials of AASHTO, the Mississippi Department of Transportation and colleagues from all across the nation who were joined by top transportation leaders and other CEOs. AASHTO is the voice of transportation for the nation and these five days of networking and sharing ideas was a great boost for Natchez and the state of Mississippi.

The hotels were sold out, restaurants were doing a booming business, and the stores were full of people spending their money. The estimated amount of money spent in Natchez per day from this conference is $190,000. The tourism impact will last far into the future as many people who had never been to Natchez, or Mississippi, prior to this meeting have said they will definitely come back again. They were overwhelmed by the hospitality and charm of our city and our people and by the number and uniqueness of events planned for them. From the moment they arrived at the airport in Jackson or Baton Rouge on Thursday and left on Sunday, they were ours and we gave them our royal treatment.

The planning that made this event so flawless had been going on for the past six months. A meeting this successful is due to the combined efforts, ideas and plain hard work and long hours of many people. I am personally so proud of the commitment to excellent evident in this conference on behalf of the outstanding MDOT employees and the dedicated people of Natchez. There are so many people I want to thank and extend my sincerest gratitude for all that each of you did. Space simply won’t allow me to thank everyone by name, but to those of you who contributed, please know I am grateful.

Walter Tipton and his staff at both the Natchez Convention Center and the Grand Hotel worked tirelessly to make sure everything went off perfectly and it did.

The monumental clean-up job on the highways and curbs done at the entrances into Natchez from Highways 61 and 84 by Maintenance Superintendent Bud Vines and his outstanding maintenance crews was nothing short of extraordinary.

The employees of the McComb District under Darrell Broome did an excellent job wherever they were assigned.

From the start of the conference to the end, the schedule of events and activities was non-stop. Kudos and “hats off” to Janet Sullivan, Vance Custer and Sharen Willis of MDOT, co-chairs of the events, for their exhaustive months of planning, conference calls, and numerous meetings with AASHTO staff/consultant and locally with Connie Taunton, director of tourism, chamber volunteer groups, Laura Godfrey, garden club members and on-site hotel visits to pull everything together. So much goes into the ambience of events and getting the right people to make them work. The events covered every aspect of things to do in Natchez and were a smashing success.

Upon checking into their hotels, the CEOs of the departments of transportations had a basket of goodies made up of a wide selection of unique Natchez products and publications waiting for them. This was the first of many gestures to promote Natchez and was an excellent preview of what Natchez has to offer and see.

Food, house tours and the hospitality table staffed by local volunteers were excellent.

Darrell White, director of the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture, gave a comprehensive black history tour of pertinent sites in Natchez. Smokey Joe Frank and Jim Barnett took a group on a historical tour of Indian mounds and artifacts in the Natchez Indian Village.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, these were just daytime activities. The evening activities were especially overwhelming for our guests. For a welcoming reception on Thursday night local restaurants provided food and the music was wonderful. A shortened Angels on the Bluff was wonderful. The crowning touch at the end as darkness approached was the lighting of the Mississippi River bridge. In the beginning, many of our guests were puzzled as to why we were going to showcase our cemetery; however, at the end of the evening, they understood our pride for this sacred place and some said they will be returning for our annual event in October. Ben Franklin once said, “Show me your cemetery and I’ll tell you about your town.” Our cemetery speaks volumes about Natchez.

Friday evening was the icing on the cake. This was the host night event, and we wanted this to be the most spectacular evening of all. We decided on a balloon glow and chose the grounds of Rosalie as the place big enough for this and for its beautiful view of the Mississippi River.

Thanks to Jerry Walley and the outstanding Ergon cooking team and Michael Blain and his great crew, our guests especially from the northern states found out they really did like catfish and turnip greens! Local potter Tom Hughes made vases special to this event used as table centerpieces put together by Kitty Bray that were simple but elegant. Special music entertained us all. Thanks, too, to Mayor Jake Middleton and the board of aldermen for your support and participation.

The dozens of accolades that I and people in Natchez have received about our hospitality, our preserved southern tradition and architecture and most of all our ability to host such a large conference, is not new to us. This is just who we are and what we do. I, MDOT, and the outstanding people of Natchez are always pleased to showcase our beautiful and welcoming city.

Larry L. “Butch” Brown is the executive director of MDOT and president of AASHTO.