FOR Natchez seeks input at public workshops

Published 12:43 am Thursday, June 22, 2017


NATCHEZ — FOR Natchez is giving local residents an opportunity to shape the future of downtown Natchez.

The non-profit group is holding a public workshop July 6 as part of phase two of their downtown revitalization project.

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The purpose of the workshop is to provide public input for what adjustments should be made in downtown.

FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle said feedback from locals who care about the area, or as she calls them, “downtowners,” is critical.

“Nobody knows Natchez better than the people who live here,” Doyle said. “The people who live here and work here and care about downtown can contribute really great ideas to the project that the consultants maybe, for whatever reason, didn’t think of.”

Doyle emphasized that while the current mayor and aldermen have been very supportive of the project, residents will be the ones to keep the project on track should that change in the future.

“It’s the public that will really hold the city council’s feet to the fire,” Doyle said.

FOR Natchez’s goal is to create a plan focusing on downtown that will replace a portion of the current, 18-year-old comprehensive city plan. Specifically, the group targets two “anchor” zones: the bluff area and the traditionally black business district that surrounds Martin Luther King Jr. Street, Franklin Street and Saint Catherine Street.

Doyle believes downtown is the key to developing Natchez and called the area “the heart of our city.”

“The more vibrant, the more engaging, the more successful our downtown is, the more attractive Natchez becomes as a location for companies who may want to relocate here,” Doyle said.

Doyle said phase two of the project spans from July 6 to July 11.

The phase begins with the public workshop, where attendees will break into groups headed by consultants working with FOR Natchez on the project. Group members will then see large maps of downtown Natchez and mark those maps with potential ideas for the area.

“They will be working with the consultant and circling and saying … ‘This is an area that I think should be devoted to entertainment,’ or ‘This could be a great (spot for a) movie theater,’ or whatever the need is,” Doyle said. “They actually get to work one-on-one with the consultant to put those ideas and their vision on the map.”

After the workshop, the team will evaluate the suggestions along with information gathered throughout the first phase of the study. Once that analysis is completed, the group will present a “big-picture concept” of a plan for downtown Natchez to the public at 6 p.m. on July 11 at the convention center.

“In a perfect world, everybody in that room will see their thumbprint on that plan; they will see their contribution,” Doyle said. “In some cases, they might see that their contribution is not exactly what they wanted, but that there had to be a compromise because other people wanted other things.

“The planners have to make the decision that’s in the best interest of the economic development, the revitalization of downtown Natchez.”

The revitalization project has been under way since March. To date, the team has conducted retail and housing market analyses, held public forums, and conducted focus groups with several organizations, including the Natchez Young Professionals, downtown merchants, and Under-the-Hill retailers.

Doyle said one consultant group based in New Orleans is coming to Natchez Monday to lead a focus group with the Young Black Entrepreneurs Group.

“This process of engaging people and asking questions and getting answers, that’s been going on nonstop,” Doyle said. “Pretty much anyone who wants to sit down and have a focus group, we’ll create one.”

But even with all the information FOR Natchez has gathered, Doyle said this public workshop would provide some of the most important data for establishing the plan.

“People who are about downtown need to please show up and participate in this public workshop,” Doyle said.

Phase three of the project involves creating a detailed plan based on all data accumulated in the prior two phases, phase four is to present a final plan to the board of aldermen for approval.

Doyle hopes to complete the project by the end of October.

Doyle encouraged those who are interested or have questions about the project to call her at 404-317-5524.