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FOR Natchez: Group seeking master plan to revitalize downtown

At left, author Greg Iles discusses his support for a master plan to revitalize downtown as a member of the FOR Natchez working group. At right, At top center, former Natchez city planner Phil Walker talks about the services he can offer to the city. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

At left, author Greg Iles discusses his support for a master plan to revitalize downtown as a member of the FOR Natchez working group. At right, former Natchez city planner Phil Walker talks about the services he can offer to the city.               (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — If Natchez is going to revitalize, buy-in from the whole community will be necessary.

That was the message representatives of FOR Natchez, Inc. brought to the Natchez Board of Aldermen Monday.

After the presentation, the board voted to publicly

 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith offers a motion to endorse the efforts of FOR Natchez. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith offers a motion to endorse the efforts of FOR Natchez. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

endorse and make non-monetary city resources available for the group’s efforts to develop a master plan with the goal of revitalizing downtown.

“Downtown is tied to regional economy,” said Phil Walker of the Walker Collaborative, a former Natchez city planner who is working with the group.

“If you want to recruit business and industry, you have to think about quality of life, when they look at communities they look at things like your downtown to indicate quality of life.”

“(Downtown) is your sense of place. When you think of strip commercial places, you could be Natchez, you could be Starkville. It is your postcard area, when you take people into Natchez you take them downtown.

The master plan as it is developed would ultimately focus on two anchor areas, the Natchez bluff and the Martin Luther King Jr. Street triangle area, Walker said, and will look at four questions.

Those questions are: Where are we now? Where are we headed? Where do we want to go? And how do we get there?

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voices her thoughts about the project. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voices her thoughts about the project. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

The approach to plan development would include research and analysis of the area’s economic and housing uses and potential.

It will then move to having meetings, called charettes, in which stakeholders discuss what they think are the strengths, weaknesses and needs of the areas in question.

“With the charette, we get facts from people we might not have gotten otherwise,” Walker said.

From there, the master plan will be developed.

Community buy-in is important during the development of the plan to make sure everyone is represented, said Greg Iles, a member of the FOR Natchez working group.

“The soul of Natchez is half black, half white, and when you look out into town, you don’t see that,” Iles said. “It tends to be divided, separated and reflecting the earlier relations of the town. We need something that will unify that, and this plan will do that.”

“We never tended to look at the bluff as the asset it is, but it is like an oilfield, like 20 wells pumping on that ridge. The only way you deplete it is to develop it hodgepodge, with a narrow interest. When you develop it, you develop it with the broad interest.”

Including the triangle area as the other anchor for downtown will help it serve as the hub for development to areas such as the Forks of the Road and Natchez College, Iles said.

FOR Natchez Inc. President Chesney Doyle speaks during the group's presentation to the board of aldermen Monday. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

FOR Natchez Inc. President Chesney Doyle speaks during the group’s presentation to the board of aldermen Monday. (Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat)

Helping direct development is key to future growth, Walker said.

“Every increment of development is either going to heighten or dilute what you have,” he said.

The aldermen signed a non-binding letter of intent saying they would implement the master plan the group develops.

FOR Natchez Inc. President Chesney Doyle said now that the city board has agreed to support the proposal, the group can start fundraising.

The project — which will be fully funded by FOR Natchez — is projected to cost $100,000, of which FOR Natchez already has $30,000 committed, she said.

The group will seek large and small donations from area residents, she said.