All signs point to investing in our businesses

Published 12:06 am Friday, May 16, 2014

Is the current squabble over a casino sign at the top of Roth Hill about enforcement or investment?

For years, the city has done a spotty job policing the city’s sign ordinance.

One does not have to drive far to find a business sign or banner that violates the code adopted in 1997. Flashing message boards, oversized spray-painted logos and designs on structures, multiple banners staked in front of stores — all are clear violations of the city’s code. Many of these illegal signs have been allowed to remain, either because the city does not have the personnel to police the law or because the city chooses to ignore the infractions.

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Looking the other way is what the city chose to do when Magnolia Bluffs Casino first erected a sign at the top of Roth Hill, off of the property the casino is leasing.  Casino President Kevin Preston said the mayor allowed his company to put the sign in its current location.

Even though off-premises signs are not allowed by the code, Mayor Butch Brown says the city chose to ignore Magnolia Bluff’s violations for the sake of cooperation.

That was until Tuesday afternoon when the mayor broke a 3-3 tie, killing a motion to allow the casino to move the sign or cut down one of the large oak trees on the bluff that blocks the view of the sign.

Evidently the city could no longer look the other way and Magnolia Bluffs would no longer get special treatment, Mayor Brown said. The mayor said the casino has already been ticketed for the last time the casino moved the sign.

Meanwhile, the city’s other casino, the Isle of Capri, continues to operate just down the river without an off-premise sign and without publicly complaining about the preferential treatment its competitor seems to be getting.

Clearly enforcement has been and continues to be an issue.

But what about investment?

Both casinos pay taxes, make community contributions and spend dollars on marketing Natchez. Both gaming facilities employ hundreds of people with annual payrolls that reach into the millions.

Preston points to his casino’s many contributions, including lease payments and donations to the city, as reasons for being allowed to move his sign to a more visible location.

But maybe Magnolia Bluffs and Isle of Capri deserve more.

If the casinos are important to the city — which they are — maybe the city should do a little investing of its own.

Instead of focusing on one small sign at the top of Roth Hill, the city needs to invest in the casinos and other businesses that are vitally important to the city’s economy with a public signage program of its own.

Last week, local tourism leaders celebrated the more than $100 million the Mississippi Development Authority says tourism contributed to the local economy.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the city to make finding our economic engines easier? Instead of watching tourists fumble around Natchez’s web of one-way streets, wouldn’t it make sense for the city to create a well-designed, easy-to-read signage program that encouraged tourists to see all that the city has to offer?

The Natchez Trails project has proven to be a hit with tourists, assisting them with historic sites. Can we not create a similar signage program to direct tourists to our local businesses and attractions?

After all if the businesses and attractions succeed, we all succeed. If businesses choose to invest in us, shouldn’t we invest in them?


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