Mayor: New hotel on horizon

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015

NATCHEZ — Despite a declining population, Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said tourism is rising.

And to accommodate more visitors, Brown said a new; name-brand hotel may soon locate near the Natchez Visitor Reception Center off Canal Street.

“It is a major, branded, upscale hotel flag,” he said. “It will be in Natchez near the river.”

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Because the hotel hasn’t formally made plans to locate to Natchez yet, Brown said he doesn’t know exactly where the hotel would go.

However, he said the hotel could possibly be located on some nine acres that he owns.

The acreage sits near a tract of land that Brown sold for development in 2011 to allow the construction of the Holiday Inn Express on South Canal Street, located between the Hampton Inn and the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel.

At the Natchez Board of Aldermen’s July 14 meeting, Brown asked for the board’s support in luring a new hotel, which would boast approximately 100 rooms, to Natchez.

Along with that support, Brown said the new hotel is seeking a $700,000 tax increment-financing (TIF) bond from the city.

A TIF bond is used to encourage private investment by allowing local government to use future property tax revenues to finance the current infrastructure costs needed to attract development.

“All they want is an expression of support from the board that we will embrace the bond,” Brown said.

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said he would support the bond because it would encourage economic development.

“I think we need to create an economic climate to encourage jobs,” Dillard said. “Hotels hire people, pay taxes and support the community. I’m in favor of this.”

Before the board gives full support for the hotel and the bond, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith said she would like more information.

“I am definitely in support of a new hotel coming to Natchez,” Smith said. “But there are some details about this situation that I need to understand first.”

Smith said she would like to know the exact location of the hotel, and the name of the hotel, before she giver her full support.

Ward 2 Alderman Rickey Gray also said he would need more information, as this was the first time he had heard about a new hotel coming to Natchez.

“We definitely need a new hotel in Natchez, but I need more exact information before I can support this,” Gray said. “Once we (the board) can sit down and discuss this, then I’ll know if I support it.”

When the city proposes a TIF bond, Gray said the developer usually comes before the board and asks for support, which hasn’t happened yet.

With the city’s tricentennial year nearly five months away, Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields said he’s glad the city is looking to potentially invest in another hotel.

“We definitely need a new hotel sooner rather than later because there are a number of events and conventions (for 2016) already planned,” he said.

Natchez Convention Center Director Walter Tipton said a new hotel would be a “huge help” in accommodating extra visitors to the city.

“I would love to have a new hotel,” Tipton said. “That means more marketing money.”

Tipton said the convention center has already booked a long list of events for 2016, which could mean more hotels booked throughout the city.

“I absolutely think there is a market for another hotel in Natchez,” said Tipton, adding that with the closure of the historic Eola Hotel, Natchez lost 160 hotel rooms. “Over all, our tourism visitation hasn’t been declining. It’s increasing.”

If the board approves the construction of the new hotel, it would become the fifth new hotel constructed in Natchez since 2007.

Currently, Natchez has 1,200 rooms through hotels and bed-and-breakfast venues.

And while most major hotels aren’t able to make reservations more than several months in advance, representatives are saying they’re already preparing for an influx of visitors in 2016.

“We’re absolutely expecting a lot of people to stay here next year because of the tricentennial,” said Vera Fields, front desk operator at the Holiday Inn Express.

Like Tipton, Brown said he’s confident in the city’s rising tourism numbers and their ability to support a new hotel.

“Our tourism business is very good,” he said. “And it will be around for quite some time.”