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FOR Natchez moving forward, create strategic downtown plan

 

NATCHEZ — FOR Natchez is so close to its $100,000 fundraising goal that the group is moving forward with a contract to create a strategic plan for downtown.

FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle said the local nonprofit has raised approximately $91,000 of $100,000 needed to hire Nashville planning firm The Walker Collaborative to create the revitalization plan. The board previously approved a letter of intent in support of the project.

Doyle reported to the Natchez Board of Aldermen Tuesday that the group would be hiring former Natchez city planner Phil Walker in anticipation of reaching the fundraising goal soon.

FOR Natchez’s objective is to create a plan for downtown development that will replace the 17-year-old portion of the city’s comprehensive plan regarding downtown, Doyle said.

The group’s strategy is to establish the bluff and business district surrounding Martin Luther King Jr. Street where businesses are traditionally owned by African-American residents. For those two anchor points, Doyle said, the goal is to further develop the bluff into a signature public park and the Martin Luther King Jr. Street area into a black history district.

“Those are the book-ends,” Doyle said Wednesday. “But the plan is for the entire downtown (area), from the … bluff to beyond MLK to the Malt Shop and Orleans Street, the whole Madison to Orleans area.”

The plan will also include a retail market analysis, a housing marketing analysis and other aspects, Doyle said.

FOR Natchez will soon form a steering committee, which will oversee the process of creating the plan, Doyle said. One of the chief purposes of the committee, she said, is to get the public involved in the plan.

“Everybody has a common vision,” Doyle said. “Everybody is playing together and is on the same team. The plan itself will be the result of all these stakeholders’ input and government input.”

The steering committee, Doyle said, will then evolve into an implementation committee once the plan is complete and eventually into a board that will oversee a new downtown development association. Walker will be providing professional guidelines about how to create and successful run the association, Doyle said.

The plan is being made possible by the generosity of individuals and organizations working toward the betterment of Natchez, Doyle said.

FOR Natchez received an up to $10,000 challenge grant from the Historic Natchez Foundation, Doyle said, and the group was able to raise $10,000 to be matched by HNF in a matter of days.

Doyle said she was encouraged that many of the donors who contributed to the challenge grant fundraising initiative were younger Natchezians, many of whom were in their 30s and 40s.

“This generous investment in the future on Natchez by the HNF board is just more evidence of a truth that I have known for decades, and it is this — the Historic Natchez Foundation is perhaps the most progressive, forward-thinking, smart-growth community action group in our town,” she said.

The group’s Fat Mama’s 5K Celebrity Run raised more than $8,000 for the cause, Doyle said, and got involved residents who may not otherwise gotten on board.

“The Fat Mama’s event drew a large crowd, was a lot of fun and generated $8,200,” Doyle said. “Having the Fat Mama’s brand” behind our project really helped spread the word. Plus, we had a lot of fun.”

Walker is set to begin the creation of the plan in February and will host a series of public meetings to get input in April.

Community involvement in the plan, Doyle said, is key to ensuring the plan is successfully created and implemented.

“First of all, those who participate will be able to contribute their own unique ideas to the study based on their experience of actually living here,” Doyle said. “Those who contribute will also see their thumbprint on the plan and feel that they have ownership of the plan, which is important. Finally, our elected officials will know that the plan represents what their constituents want and need in a livable prosperous city that everyone is proud to call home.”