Group shows interest in downtown depot

Published 12:03 am Sunday, September 13, 2015

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about what a hotel group envisions to house inside the downtown depot. The information is now correct. 

NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen signed a letter of intent Tuesday that could put the renovation of the Broadway Street depot on a faster track.

The letter, presented by New Orleans Hotel Consultants President Warren Reuther, details interest in fully renovating the inside of the depot and later leasing the depot from the city after exterior renovations are performed.

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The board recently accepted an $879,000 bid from Paul Jackson and Sons to renovate the outside of the depot using grant monies from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

City Attorney Hyde Carby, who presented the letter of intent to the board, said Reuther wishes to fulfill the second phase of the depot’s renovations. The first phase — the exterior renovation — would be carried out by Paul Jackson and Sons.

“Right now, we’re just interested in the (depot),” said Reuther, whose company contracts with the city to manage the city’s convention center and also manages The Natchez Grand Hotel and Monmouth Historic Inn. “We don’t know how much it would cost to restore the inside.”

And while talks of interior renovation at the depot are still preliminary, Reuther said he has thought about what could be housed in the 2,800 square foot property.

“If we’re able to make it work, we want to put a full-service destination management company there,” Reuther said. “And the name we selected would be the Mississippi River Visitor Depot.”

Reuther said he envisions the depot housing a small bistro and a few other amenities.

Since the depot has been vacant since 2013, Reuther said its inside looks dismal.

“The inside is completly gutted,” he said.

Currently, Reuther said his first priority is to get potential contractors inside the depot to assess what kind of work needs to be done and at what cost.

Natchez Convention Center Director Walter Tipton is showing the space to a potential contractor Monday, Reuther said.

Businesses the depot previously housed include the Old South Trading Post and the former Cock of the Walk restaurant.

Carby said both businesses were evicted from the depot in 2013 because the city couldn’t receive any grant funding to renovate the depot if the building housed for-profit businesses.

Because Reuther’s renovation and lease would begin after the exterior renovation — phase 1 of the project — Carby said the for-profit stipulation doesn’t apply.

“It is allowable to lease the building after the work is done as long as the lease payment goes back into the building,” he said.

Jonathan Wood, owner of Old South Trading Post — which is now located on Franklin Street — said he was glad to hear the depot might house another tourist attraction soon.

“With the trails project starting there and with the beautiful view and the bridge, I think it’s a natural location for the development of a tourist operation,” Wood said. “Old South is excited to see the redevelopment of the Natchez Train Station.”

Community Development Director James Johnston previously said residents could expect visible updates to the depot to begin sometime in October.

Reuther said he hopes interior updates would follow soon after.

“I don’t know if this project is rolling or stuck in the mud,” Reuther said. “But if everything works out, I think it could be something beautiful.”