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FOR Natchez tops $100,000 goal

 

NATCHEZ — Christmas came a day early Saturday in the form of a $5,000 donation to a local organization working to plan the future of downtown Natchez.

One week ago, FOR Natchez needed approximately $9,000 to reach its $100,000 goal in order to hire the planning firm The Walker Collaborative to develop a strategic plan for the future of downtown Natchez.

Two local Santa Clauses surprised FOR Natchez officials with two $5,000 donations, president Chesney Doyle said Saturday. One donation was a pledge from a local business earlier in the week. The other $5,000 came in the form of a check personally handed to Doyle on Christmas Eve.

“Hallelujah! We are at $101,500 for FOR Natchez,” Doyle texted supporters after she received the donation.

Doyle reported to the Natchez Board of Aldermen earlier this month the group’s intentions to move forward with hiring former Natchez city planner Phil Walker in anticipation of reaching its goal.

“(With Saturday’s donation) we can now move forward with confidence,” Doyle said.

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. From 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.

Once the contract is signed, Walker and FOR Natchez will begin the first phase of the project, Doyle said.

The phase, which will likely begin in February, will include assembling a team of economists and planning consultants to begin research Doyle said would include a retail market analysis and a housing market analysis.

At the same time, Doyle said the team will set up meetings with city and county government officials and with business owners, downtown residents and others who are directly impacted by the project, Doyle said.

“We want to get their input — to find out what they want to see and what they need to see happen to make downtown Natchez work for them and work for us,” Doyle said.

The project will enter another phase in April, Doyle said. The next step in the project will include six days of public meetings called “charrettes.” Those who attend the charrettes, will be asked to use markers, maps and other materials to become city planners for the day, Doyle said. Working with members from Walker’s office, charrette participants will draw up what they wish for downtown.

“This is the really critical piece of the puzzle,” Doyle said. “Community engagement is the key to project.”

After the charrettes, Walker’s team will then analyze what was presented along with other research to help determine a plan for downtown development.

The project is expected to last six to eight months once the contract is signed, Doyle said.

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