Three city renovation projects under way

Published 12:02 am Monday, May 30, 2016

NATCHEZ — Three City of Natchez renovation projects aim to revitalize pieces of public property.

Work on Auburn Antebellum Home, the Natchez Senior Center and the Duncan Park Tennis Center has been planned for months, but will only see results after the new administration takes over July 1, Community Development Director James Johnston said.

Auburn is awaiting the possibility of additional money, Johnston said, but pre-construction talks on the Natchez Senior Center and Duncan Park Tennis Center will likely take place next week.

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Auburn, a city-owned antebellum house, recently underwent a total renovation of its kitchen dependency building. A renovation of the main house will begin soon.

Auburn Antebellum Home President Clark Feiser said the renovations are badly needed, due to age and water damage of the house’s exterior.

“Our major things are the columns and the balcony in the front, but we’re also going to do the columns in the back,” Feiser said. “That will be all handled.”

The damage is severe and noticeable, Feiser said, and he thinks the appearance affects the number of visitors to the home.

“It is so embarrassing to drive up the driveway every day and see those columns in the condition that they’re in,” he said. “We have people drive in and drive back out all the time. And I think they see these columns and they say, ‘If this place looks like this on the outside what does it look like on the inside?’ And they just keep going.”

Johnston said the city received a $158,000 grant from Mississippi Department of Archives and History in December 2015, but has a good chance of receiving an additional $55,000 grant.

“The grant was not as much as we needed, so we went back to MDAH and said, if there are any unobligated or recaptured funds, keep us in mind.”

Two cities that applied for the grant decided not to use it, Johnston said, so MDAH now will decide who will receive those funds. Construction cannot begin until the decision is made.

“Why enter into an agreement now when we may get more monies?” Johnston said. “So we’ve been sitting and waiting.”

Johnston said he was told unofficially in May that Natchez is likely to receive the additional funds, but has not yet received notification in writing.

Feiser said MDAH likely would make a final decision in July.

The city will provide a $63,000 match to obtain the grant, $18,000 of which will be provided by the Auburn Antebellum Home Board of Directors from the funds the house generates from tours and events.

“The (Natchez Board of Aldermen) likes buy-in from other parties they’re helping,” Johnston said. “So it’s a public-private venture, you would say.”

The Auburn Board of Directors leases the property from the city, Johnston said.

Until the money is officially offered to Natchez, construction will have to wait, but Feiser said he hopes to have scaffolding up soon.

“I’d love to see scaffolding by the end of summer,” Feiser said. “The whole project seems to be moving faster than the kitchen project did.”

The city will also seek to build a new Duncan Park Tennis Center.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said the tennis court is part of his most recent administration’s goal to improve recreation.

“We’ve had tennis in Natchez ever since it’s been introduced to the world,” Brown said. “There’s been active tennis programs all my life and for generations ahead of me.”

The established nature of the tennis program makes it easy for the city to maintain. Brown said maintenance of the courts is relatively inexpensive as well.

Johnston said the project would enter into pre-construction talks next week with the project’s architect, Johnny Waycaster, and the contractor.

The project would be funded by a grant of $150,000 from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and $254,000 from the City of Natchez, Johnston said.

“It’s going to serve the need that’s been there since the inception of tennis,” he said. “It will be much more professionally operated and oriented than any tennis facility in our area.”

Brown said a third project, the Natchez Senior Center, would also serve an established portion of the city.

Natchez Senior Center Executive Director Sabrena Bartley said the programs at the senior center are already successful, but need some upgrades to the facility.

“We are excited about the work that is to happen, because this building is over 100 years old and it serves so many people,” Bartley said. “Over 400 people use the building regularly. It’s a lot of people and a lot of different things going on here.”

The Natchez Senior Center occupies a former school building on Washington Street.

While the historic building is beautiful, it is much in need of repair, Bartley said.

“It is paramount that this facility continues to be the premier senior facility, probably in the whole state,” Bartley said. “Nobody else has the history this building has. People that came here to attend school as children are now here as adults. I think that is an awesome ability to be able to do that.”

Johnston said pre-construction talks would likely begin next week.

The renovation cost of $382,000 will be funded by a $195,000 grant from the Mississippi Development Authority, approximately $184,000 of city funds, and $3,000 of the senior center’s own maintenance budget.

Brown said the senior center is part of a larger priority his administration placed on public health.

“People who would be homebound otherwise are allowed to go into a location where they can interact with family and friends and take part in activities that keep them young and mobile,” he said. “That in itself is the reason for it — there is a demand.”