Businesses not on board with city’s plan

Published 12:01 am Friday, December 23, 2011

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Patti Craft, left, and Tiffany Brantley of Vicksburg wait for their food inside the Cock of the Walk Wednesday afternoon on Broadway Street. City officials are discussing the possibility of relocating the Old South Trading Post and the Cock of the Walk from the Broadway Street depot.

NATCHEZ — Two businesses at the center of the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s plans to renovate the former train depot on Broadway Street are anything but on board.

City officials have talked about the possibility of relocating the businesses — the Old South Trading Post and Cock of the Walk — but the business owners say they do not want to leave their historic location.

The city wants to move the businesses in order to apply for a grant from two state agencies that would fund renovations of the city-owned building. The grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Mississippi Department of Transportation — stipulates that the building must not house private businesses.

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City Engineer David Gardner and Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard both said at a recent aldermen meeting that MDAH and MDOT disqualified the depot from a previous grant application because of the operation of the businesses.

Old South Trading Post owner Jonathan Wood said he was infuriated at the suggestion that the businesses be removed from their location.

“There are two schools of thought,” he said. “One is that powerful politicians in government will decide what’s best for everyone … and the other is that America was built on hard work, ethics and creative innovation.”

Wood said he has put a lot of his own money and hard work into promoting Natchez through its self-funded marketing program and work with tour groups.

“Old South Trading Post helps make lasting memories for visitors through quality items, Southern hospitality and our own Natchez marketing program,” he said.

Wood said he believes the city’s interest in the depot is not really about repairing the building but relocating the gift shop in the Natchez Visitor Reception Center to the depot.

“This old rag-tag building may not be a pretty tourism shrine, but we still deliver over $70,000 a year to the tax coffers,” he said.

Wood said the tax revenues for the Trading Post and Cock of the Walk are more than $70,000 each year.

Wood said he does not think the city realizes how much it will cost to move to a new location, and the tremendous effort it will take to inform people of the move.

Cock of the Walk owner Patricia Clark said she does not know if the city has other plans for the depot, but she said the building could use some repairs including the leaky roof.

“I don’t know what the description of work would be,” she said. “No one has ever come in here and done any kind of inspection.”

Clark said she is doing the best she can to continue a family business.

“My husband died 13 years ago, and I am just trying to make a living and run a business,” she said.

The depot is near and dear to her heart, Clark said.

“I think Cock of the Walk is a tradition that has been here for a while, and I would like to see that continue,” she said.

Clark said she does not have a plan if she is forced to relocate.

“I will just wait and see what happens,” she said. “In my 20 years here, a lot has come and gone.”