City loses National Main Street Community accreditation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 24, 2010

NATCHEZ — For the second consecutive year, the City of Natchez is not accredited as a National Main Street Community.

The Natchez Downtown Development Association is responsible for operating the Main Street program, but local budget cuts forced the Mississippi Main Street Association to not recommend national accreditation.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen cut its annual $25,000 allocation to the NDDA during budget hearings last year. The amount covered NDDA Executive Director Mease Banks’ salary.

Upon learning of the budget cut, NDDA petitioned the now defunct Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, which agreed to allocate $12,500 to the NDDA — only half of Banks’ annual salary.

Banks has since stepped down as executive director. Among the National Trust Main Street Center’s 10 standards of performance is having a paid professional program manager. NDDA Treasurer Scott Christian said the lack of an executive director is the primary reason for the city’s loss of accreditation.

“(Having an) executive director is a specific requirement of the Main Street program,” Christian said. “Obviously, we’ve lost our funding and there’s no money there to pay for an executive director.

“We’ve had four executive directors over the last three years, and what has happened is by the time (the executive director) learns the program, they leave.”

The city remains an accredited member of the Mississippi Main Street Association, and the NDDA board has asked the state association for a waiver from having a full-time director, Christian said.

“In these current economic conditions, it’s hard to find money to fund this organization,” Christian said. “We’re trying to work with folks in Jackson to continue the program with a volunteer board.”

Christian said the NDDA board is also working to form active committees and submit monthly statistical reports to the Mississippi Main Street Association.

“We hope by the end of the summer we’ll be in a position with the state where we can say, ‘We’ve met all the other requirements, but we’re missing a full-time director,’” Christian said.

Christian said if the city is not accredited for a third consecutive year, it could be barred from the national Main Street program.

Last year, a $250 check to the National Main Street Network Membership Program kept the city from its accreditation. According to a previous report, a shift in leadership was the cause for the mishap.

NDDA President Janelle Williams said despite the financial hardships, NDDA will continue its mission of attracting locals and tourists to downtown businesses.

Williams said a merchant’s meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Aug. 3 at Natchez Coffee Co.

“We will be discussing the future of Natchez Downtown Development and where we will go with the organization,” Williams said.