Are stars aligned for city depot project?

Published 12:06 am Friday, April 5, 2013

It has been more than 40 years since a First Lady has visited Natchez in an official capacity.

Since Lady Bird Johnson toured Stanton Hall during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration in the late 1960s, no other first lady has paid a visit to southwest Mississippi.

If Butch Brown’s vision comes to fruition, that could change.

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No one would accuse the Natchez mayor of thinking small, especially when it comes to getting what he wants for the city.

Brown wasn’t predicting a visit from Michelle Obama during a work session Thursday for the creation of a farmer’s market, demonstration gardens and other public facilities on the Mississippi River bluff, but Brown would welcome a visit from Mrs. Obama and thinks it is a project in which she would be interested.

As first lady, Obama continues to speak out about childhood obesity in America. Since President Obama’s first term, Michelle has been talking to communities across the country about the importance of exercise and eating responsibly. In February, the first lady and television celebrity chef Rachael Ray visited a school in Clinton to promote Michelle’s Let’s Move! campaign and to celebrate the state’s success in battling childhood obesity.

When it comes to obesity, Natchez is only a 20-minute drive away from what was the fattest county in the fattest state in the nation.

Jefferson County was named the fattest county in the United States in 2005 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highest concentration of overweight and obese people live in Fayette and the surrounding region.

The proposed farmers’ market and demonstration gardens will offer local residents a place to not only purchase locally-grown produce but also a place for residents to learn how to grow their own food. Studies show that people who eat locally-grown food are less likely to be obese.

The walking trails that were built two-years ago are an added bonus to the obesity fight.

But as much as Brown would welcome a visit from Mrs. Obama, it is the political clout and influence of the White House that Brown would appreciate the most. It takes money to build all that Brown wants to accomplish. Brown estimates that the project will cost around $2 million dollars.

That is what officials from Mississippi State University, Alcorn State University and the city discussed at lunch Thursday.

Brown’s ideas for the area are nothing short of revolutionary. Turning the building into a visitors’ center and public restrooms for the Natchez Trails Project would have been simple and less costly compared to Brown’s grand vision for the early 20th century building.

In its current iteration, the project will involve representatives from MSU extension service, Alcorn and possibly Copiah-Lincoln. It will include a farmers’ market, production and research facilities, classroom space, county extension service offices and public restrooms. It will involve building a 7,000 square foot open-air pavilion adjacent to the existing train depot and possibly a smaller pavilion on the north part of the property for local bands and entertainment.

All of the officials who were at the table Thursday seemed excited about the project and its unique potential.

“The stars are lined up to make this project happen,” Brown said.

If Michelle Obama comes to the grand opening in 2016, it will be icing on the cake.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at