We should work together on depot project

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A once beautiful train depot gracing the bluff of Natchez overlooking the Mississippi River slowly deteriorated into a physical eyesore as the landscape and structures around it were revitalized. This dilapidated building — the starting location for Natchez’s spectacular walking trails — stood in bold contrast to the bluff-side environment which was enhancing the city as one of the most beautiful places in the country.

Fortunately, via city efforts, the Mississippi State Department of Transportation came forth with some funding to restore the property; however, following the receipt of bids to the city from three qualified contractors, it was apparent that the funding was only adequate to restoring the exterior of the building. The city envisioned that the entire property be completed simultaneously. It was readily apparent by anyone interested in the depot that someone needed to become involved with the advancement of the interior restoration. However, with this community-wide knowledge of the status of the depot restoration — as covered in several local newspaper articles and at board of aldermen meetings — no one was creating a fundable solution to the interior restoration or stepping in with a viable project. The one point that resonated throughout this time frame was the need for public restrooms somewhere on the bluff. The city put out for bid the interior project with announcements in The Natchez Democrat, and did receive three bids to do the interior work. But, the bids they received were too expensive, and the city publicly responded that they did not have the necessary funds to complete the interior restoration on their own.

Nancy and I had shown an interest in restoring the depot ever since the Natchez Grand Hotel was built eight years ago, to the extent of us having a set of architectural drawings done. As the depot continued to sit vacant over the years and open to the elements, the city approached us with a recommendation that we consider restoring the depot. In addition to our letter of intent to restore the interior of the depot, we also submitted, which the city requested, a letter of our financial support from a local bank, which is also excited about being involved in completing the interior of the depot. Subsequently, a vote by the aldermen and the mayor accepted our letter of intent and financial information. After receiving three local bids from qualified companies, we signed a contract with a local construction company to complete the interior restoration. With all of the paperwork in place, and city approval, we began the process of interior restoration. As the project got under way, we learned from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History that to meet their historic guidelines for restoration in many areas, the depot could not accommodate a full commercial kitchen or restaurant. We worked at developing many uses for the property and two parties initially contacted us with “visions” for the interior, however one plan incorporated a full restaurant concept which was not acceptable.

Email newsletter signup

The current status regarding the depot is that we have properly approved and prepared paperwork with the city regarding restoring the interior of the structure; and, in fact, have invested tens of thousands of dollars, to date on the project. If the city decides to overturn our voted and approved contract, the city would owe us a refund on all funds expended to date.

We have a proven record in the Hospitality Industry in New Orleans (www.bigeasy.com), internationally, as well as in Natchez. In Natchez, we have successfully managed the Natchez Convention Center, the Natchez Grand Hotel, and Monmouth Historic Inn with property-specific information available on our website: www.natchez.com. We only want what is best for the city; and, we have made extensive investment in this city we love. We have now been told that there are additional interested individuals who want to take on the depot project; and, we have let it be known that we would be interested in speaking with any interested party who has the vision and funding to partner with us. Our intent has never been to secretly take on the depot project. By example, we hoped in addition to a handful of individuals in the community with civic pride who have made sizeable investments, that others would utilize their skills and/or develop a team to continue the restoration of other significant historic structures in Natchez. We must keep reminding ourselves that we are a city whose economy is based upon tourism. And, as many organizations within the city understand, Tourism is a service industry, and we must consistently provide our three hundred years of history within an environment showcasing the city’s pride in itself. Any building in a dilapidated state is a negative reflection on the city. That’s the way visitors view a destination. The jobs and funding which comes to Natchez via the Hospitality Industry feeds the city’s livelihood. Most — if not all of the city’s residents are tied directly or indirectly to this fact. Nancy and I are here to do our part. By working together within the community — as opposed to operating via hearsay and rumor — collectively, we can become the Natchez we all envision, one we all can be proud to be part of.


Warren Reuther is president of New Orleans Hotel Consultants.