Could depot deal have been better?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The former train depot on Broadway is badly in need of renovation. We can all agree on that fact.

The depot’s owner, the City of Natchez, had found a good plan to get the depot renovated using a state grant.

Unfortunately, renovating historic buildings can be costly and in the case of the depot the price of full inside and out renovation exceeded the grant funds available.

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The city wisely chose to move forward with renovating the exterior. But the manner in which the city created a solution for the building’s interior is far from ideal. At best it’s creative and innovative. At worst, it’s favoritism and cronyism.

The city effectively handpicked a person to agree to renovate the interior in exchange for what may be dubbed as a sweetheart investment — all the costs of the interior renovation and its financing costs are taken off the lease payments and the city has to pay for any repairs that are more than $500.

The depot sat abandoned and open to the elements for what seemed like years, yet suddenly the city decided rapid action was needed. It pulled together a deal to renovate the inside in a matter of two months’ time without as much as a hint of trying to see if anyone else would offer to make a better deal than what they dreamt up.

The depot isn’t a hot potato or a lemon that the city should try to quickly rid itself of. When renovated, it will be a cherry of a building whose public potential may never be fully known.

The deal the city struck with Warren Reuther may be the best available, but the manner in which the city — or at least the mayor and three aldermen — handled it precludes us from ever knowing for sure.