Local senator again seeks $6M for Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center

Published 1:11 am Tuesday, January 10, 2017


NATCHEZ — A Natchez senator is once again seeking $6 million in state funding to renovate the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center.

Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, is sponsoring bill seeking $2 million per fiscal year to fulfill the estimated $6 million in renovations needed at the Mississippi Landmark as a three-phase project.

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Dearing and other legislators have unsuccessfully tried in recent years to pass bills to fund the renovations at the center.

Dearing said he thinks dividing the funding up over three fiscal years increases the chances of passing the bill this year.

“The approach we’re taking this time is $2 million this year, $2 million coming in 2018, and $2 million in 2019,” he said. “Hopefully this will make it a little bit easier to get it passed. I think it’s a good approach for us to take.”

The center is primarily used by the Natchez Festival of Music for its annual events, but is also home to Natchez Ballet Academy and fitness classes.

Dearing is a Natchez Festival of Music emeritus board member.

Natchez Festival of Music President Mary Lessley said the festival has spent a great deal of money on the building’s upkeep since first utilizing the former school in 1991.

Lessley said the most needed update at the center is a central heating and air-conditioning system. The lack of a climate-controlled building, Lessley said, has accelerated the building’s aging process, and caused repairs made — such as painting — to deteriorate more quickly.

Hattiesburg architect Larry Albert drafted plans for potential renovations at the center at an estimated cost of $6 million.

“That was three years ago,” Lessley said.

The festival’s vision for the center is for it to become “one of the finest performing arts centers in the South,” Lessley said.

“We want it to be marketed just like they do the convention center, the City Auditorium, the community center and the visitor center,” she said. “If it’s renovated, it could have a tremendous impact on tourism.”

The center is owned by the City of Natchez.

Mayor Darryl Grennell said the city does not have the funds to properly maintain or renovate the building.

“We’ve got so many buildings and other infrastructure that need attention,” he said. “With our budget, we have to make sure we are taking care of the necessities.

“(It) would be truly great for the City of Natchez if we could get that funding,” Grennell said. “That would probably create one of the best performing arts centers in the state. Margaret Martin, architecturally, is a wonderful building that has a lot of potential.”

If the center could be restored, Grennell said, it could potentially have a positive impact on the utilization of the building.

“It would have a major impact in terms of performing arts, along with other utilization,” he said. “That building would be used for instructional purposes that could include partnerships with institutions like Co-Lin and Alcorn. I think it would open a lot of doors for the city.”