Celebrate kickoff for city’s future with FOR Natchez

Published 12:19 am Sunday, March 5, 2017

Dear citizens of Natchez-Adams:

From our bluff to our black history district, downtown Natchez needs YOU!  Please come and bring your friends to the Downtown Natchez Revitalization Project Kickoff from 6 to 7 p.m. Monday at the Natchez Convention Center.

The project planning consultants will be present to explain the process and launch the study. The end result will be a professional plan with implementation strategies, reflecting the input of the community. Join us tomorrow night to find out how you can participate in creating the future of Downtown Natchez.

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Remember, this is just the very beginning of a six to eight-month study that hinges on community engagement, community participation and total transparency.

Why is this important? First of all, Downtown Natchez belongs to all of us. Think about the role that our downtown plays as the heart of our community. It’s where we gather for parades, festivals, the Christmas tree lighting and other community events.

But also consider this: Downtown Natchez is not just a place or an attraction. It is an industry that generates jobs and income. One individual restaurant, a gift shop, a dry cleaner, a salon or a barber shop alone does not make an industry. But taken together as a whole, Downtown Natchez is an economic generator for the entire community. Hundreds of people work downtown. If we can attract more investment and businesses to the downtown area, then hundreds more will have jobs. This won’t happen with a snap of the finger, but it will happen with proper planning and dedication.

The project study area is the entire downtown. The east-west boundary goes from the Holy Family Catholic Church neighborhood at Orange Avenue to the edge of the bluff. The north-south boundary runs from Cathedral School at Madison to Orleans Street. The planners recommend that we pay extra attention to developing the two anchors of downtown: our bluff area and our black history district along MLK.

People may be skeptical because past plans have failed to deliver. This plan will only fail if we shelve it and do not act on it. Our consultants, The Walker Collaborative, based out of Nashville specialize in holistic planning strategies — they don’t simply focus on design issues or historic preservation. Solid economic analyses will inform the plan. Twenty percent of the budget is devoted to a professional retail market analysis and a housing demand projection. The plan will be grounded in vigorous public engagement. The Plan will make Natchez more competitive for funding. Finally, the implementation section of the plan will help us with prioritizing phasing, and marketing.

In 2015-16, I served on the Board of Directors of F.O.R. Natchez, the nonprofit organization that is spearheading this public planning process. During that time, the City Council of the previous administration unanimously endorsed F.O.R. Natchez’s proposal for a Downtown Natchez Revitalization project, as a Tricentennial Legacy Project, fittingly titled “The Next 300 Years.” With the City Council’s support, F.O.R. Natchez then raised private dollars to fund this public process. Now, F.O.R. Natchez’s mission is to steward the project to insure total transparency and community engagement. Everyone who wants to participate in this project will have a voice. At the end of the process, the City Council will have the opportunity to adopt this new plan and turn our town around for the better.

For decades, Natchez has experienced a decline in population and economy. We have limited fiscal resources in both the public and private sectors. We are plagued with frequent political and racial divides. Now is the time to put an end to the problems of the past and work on the future.

Speaking of planning, I truly believe that God has a plan for Natchez. I believe that Natchez can be that shining city on the hill, a beacon of light and hope for other small towns in Mississippi and the south. I believe that we in Natchez can lead the way, set the example and show others how we can come together as one people, as one community, building on our past to create our future, despite our town’s difficult history.

In 2016, we celebrated our 300th anniversary. Now, in 2017, as we salute Mississippi’s Bicentennial, let us all forge ahead together with energy for the future of our town.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your mayor.
Darryl V. Grennell is the mayor of Natchez.