Depot project gets $750,000

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez’s plans to renovate the former railroad depot downtown have picked up a little steam, approximately $750,000 worth.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation awarded the city $250,000 for the depot project and will award another $250,000 in the fall and $200,000-$250,000 next spring, Mayor Butch Brown said.

The city is partnering with Alcorn State and Mississippi State universities to renovate the depot and relocate the Natchez Farmers Market to the bluff.

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Preliminary plans include constructing an open-air pavilion for the Alcorn State extension program’s farmers market and turning the depot into a public product development facility with a demonstration kitchen.

Alcorn’s School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Science Dean Barry Bequette said the estimated cost for Alcorn’s portion of the project is $1.2 million. He said the university has $500,000 committed to the project and is hoping to obtain more funding in lieu of scaling down the plans for the farmers market.

The MDOT funding is being provided through the Transportation Alternatives Program funds and will require a 20-percent match.

Brown said the depot project will enhance the Natchez Trails Project, the city’s ongoing transportation project that has added connecting walking trails and sidewalks downtown, because the depot will serve as a visitor reception center for the Trails, which will be integrated into the redevelopment of the area

“The project is an essential ingredient into the Trails project as well as the depot itself,” he said.

The depot’s space would have a demonstration kitchen that could be used for educational or commercial purposes. The depot would also house public restrooms, meeting and possible office and classroom space.

Mississippi State and Alcorn State officials have said they are hoping to house joint educational opportunities in the depot, from distance learning to hands-on continuing education courses.

Officials have also said the demonstration kitchen could be rented for product development purposes, educational and entrepreneurial training.

Alcorn has hired architect William Mills of Mills and Mills Architects in Greenville as the architect to design the new farmers market. Mills presented presented two different layouts for the proposed open-air pavilion at the depot committee’s last meeting.

Brown said more architectural renderings for the project will be ready before the committee’s next meeting.

The city, Brown said, has cleaned up the former pecan factory site on the bluff, which may be incorporated into the project. Brown said he is pleased with the advancement of the project so far.

“We’re making rapid progress,” he said.