Changes for Margaret Martin? Developer planning apartments for center

Published 12:13 am Thursday, September 25, 2014

NATCHEZA developer allegedly has interest in turning portions of the historic Margaret Martin School into apartments.

A preliminary meeting took place Wednesday at Margaret Martin where the unnamed developer looked around and learned more about applying for historic preservation tax credits.

A source familiar with the proposed project said the plan was to turn classroom spaces in the building into apartments, but would leave the auditorium untouched.

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The meeting, however, came unbeknownst to several city leaders, who say they were aware of several projects in the works, but no concrete meetings scheduled.

Historic Natchez Foundation Deputy Director Trevor Brown declined to disclose specifics on the project or name those involved, but said a potential developer was interested in applying for historic preservation credits for possible work at the historic building.

“I don’t think anything is concrete at this point, and this was more of a preliminary meeting on the part of the potential developers because he hasn’t been in Martin, or at least not in all the spaces,” Trevor Brown said. “This was just a time for him to see what he has to work with so he can go back to his partner and sort of start getting to the drawing board of what’s possible.”

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he was not aware of any meetings Wednesday, but said the building is one that constantly receives attention from developers.

“There’s been 20 or 30 inquiries into the building since I’ve been back in the mayor’s seat,” Mayor Brown said. “The thing is trying to find something that’s good for the building and good for the city.”

Those interests, Mayor Brown said, have included everything from housing and apartments to an arts center.

“There were several ideas floating around the last time I checked, but it’s just a matter of going through them one at a time and seeing who has the money and meets the criteria,” Mayor Brown said. “Right now, we need to get (the school building) on the National Registry, so that we can have some federal tax credits to offer with the state credits, which will make it more attractive.”

The HNF nominated the facility for National Register of Historic Places landmark status last month.

Built in 1927 as Natchez High School, the Gothic Revival style building was designed by architect P.J. Krouse and is already designated as a Mississippi Landmark.

Margaret Martin, Trevor Brown said, is just outside of a designated national register zone in Natchez, and thus needs a separate application.

If a property is designated to be on the register, Trevor Brown said developers then follow a three-step process to receive historic preservation tax credits.

The most intensive step in the process includes a review of all the proposed work that will take place in the building including any modifications and overall maintenance of the property.

“Everything that’s being done needs to be looked at to determine that it won’t take away from the building’s historic status,” Trevor Brown said. “Once all the work is reviewed, it goes to Washington, D.C., for final approval, and that’s where someone signs off on everything and decides what the actual credits will be.”

Even after the credits are approved, Trevor Brown said all work at Margaret Martin would still have to go before local preservation entities and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for approval.

Trevor Brown said the process can seem long and arduous, but is also what has helped Natchez preserve so much of its history.

“I would say downtown Natchez wouldn’t be what it is today without those historic tax credits,” Trevor Brown said. “It makes it appealing especially for a building like Margaret Martin that’s actually in very good condition overall.”

Alderman Dan Dillard, who is chair of public properties, and alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith, who represents the ward where Margaret Martin is located, said they were unaware of any meetings scheduled Wednesday.

The building currently houses the Natchez Festival of Music, Natchez Ballet Academy, the Natchez Gymnastic Association and was featured in a pivotal scene in Tate Taylor’s “Get On Up” after movie crews transformed the auditorium to resemble the famous Apollo Theatre.