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Residents get chance to share their vision of Natchez Thursday

by DAVID HAMILTON

NATCHEZ — Natchez residents have an opportunity Thursday to make their mark on the future of downtown Natchez.

Residents and FOR Natchez representatives will gather for a public workshop at the Natchez Convention Center from 5:30-8 p.m. for phase 2 of the downtown Natchez revitalization project. The goal of the workshop is to discuss and plan “The Next 300 Years” of Natchez.

FOR Natchez president Chesney Doyle said participation from the community is absolutely vital to the project.

“It’s an opportunity to work with the consultant on what really matters to them,” Doyle said.

Phase 2 of the project, Doyle said, would consist of consultants and participants breaking into groups and demonstrating on a map what downtown Natchez needs.

Doyle said the room would contain 20 tables, each surrounded by eight to 10 chairs. Those seated at each table then would take a 3-by-4-foot map and a marker and literally draw out a vision for the downtown area’s future.

The group of five consultants working on the revitalization project includes the Walker Collaborative, based in Nashville and headed by former Natchez City Planner Phil Walker. Prior to earning a master’s degree in Real Estate Development from Harvard University, Walker was Natchez’s city planner from 1991-1993.

Doyle said Walker is in “the top tier of city planning consultants in the country.”

“He has known Natchez and has had a desire to come back here and apply his trade as a consultant to help the city achieve its great potential,” Doyle said.

The rest of the consulting experts are:

4Economic and strategic planning consultant Randall Gross;

4Urban designers Keith Covington and Lee Jones; and

4New Orleans-based consultant Tronn Moller, who is helping with community engagement.

Doyle said the variety and depth of knowledge within the consulting panel is needed for such a big undertaking. She said this “robust staff” is something most city planning departments cannot afford to have.

“It’s important for public to understand that rarely does the city planning department of a city take on any kind of long-range planning to drive the growth of a community,” Doyle said.

“That’s what this project is about.”

The project’s main objective is to create a final plan that will replace a portion of the current, 18-year-old comprehensive city plan. Specifically, FOR Natchez is focusing on two of the city’s “anchor zones,” the bluff and the Black Historic District that surrounds Martin Luther King Jr. Street, Franklin Street and Saint Catherine Street. The project’s “study area” also includes everything in between the two zones.

“One focus is on creating signature public park at the bluff that will really put us back on the map for having the most beautiful view of the greatest river in the country,” Doyle said.

“Preserving the bluff, protecting the bluff, enhancing the bluff as a signature public park is going to have a positive economic impact from Broadway (Street) toward the east.”

As for the Black Historic District, Doyle called that area “fertile ground” because of all the history and stories it contains. She gave an example of Hiram Revels, who went from “the pulpit at Zion Chapel” to become the first U.S. Congressman in history.

“That area is so ripe for the development of a cultural history district that focuses on black history as well as multicultural history.”

Doyle said developing that zone would also reap economic benefits in every direction.

The downtown revitalization project officially kicked off in March. To date, the project has involved retail and housing market analyses, more than a dozen focus groups and multiple public forums to gather information. Doyle said her team is grateful for all the feedback so far.

“But it doesn’t end there; now we need to come together in one big room,” Doyle said.

Following Thursday’s public workshop, Doyle said project leaders would evaluate all feedback gathered to date. Then, everyone will reconvene at 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 11 at the convention center when the group will present a “big-picture concept” of a plan based on residents’ input.

“The plan will ultimately include a vision that we hope represents the community’s vision for what our downtown can be,” Doyle said.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell and the board of aldermen, Doyle said, have been very supportive of the project from the start.

“The mayor ran on a platform of inclusion, and here it is — the opportunity for everyone to have a voice in classing the future of our town,” Doyle said.

Those who have questions or are interested in the project can reach Doyle at 404-317-5524.