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FOR Natchez proposal for downtown coming soon

 

NATCHEZ — FOR Natchez has completed the first two phases of its downtown Natchez revitalization plan and is now drafting a final proposal to present to the Natchez Board of Aldermen in January.

The nonprofit Friends of the Riverfront Natchez has commissioned a four-phase study aimed at receiving community input on how Natchezians think downtown could best be improved, consulting with professionals and funneling those recommendations into a master development plan.

A city master plan is supposed to be updated every three to five years, FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle said, but Natchez’s plan dates back to 1999.

Doyle said the lack of a coherent plan can deter investors.

“No investor wants to be the only investor,” Doyle said. “They want to know there is a plan.”

The FOR Natchez project will replace the existing city plan for downtown with a scheme that accounts for both residents’ wants and consultants’ recommendations.

The original plan was to have completed phases three and four by December, Doyle said, but following phase two, the group decided to get community input one last time.

“The challenge has been providing a mechanism for meaningful feedback,” Doyle said. “There should be no question that this is what the people want.”

The two primary “bookends” of the plan, Doyle said, are the bluff and the historic black business district area near the intersection of St. Catherine and Martin Luther King Jr. streets.The final plan, which includes established neighborhood, mixed-use areas, and an entertainment district, will be unveiled in January 2018 and should be ready for adoption in February 2018.

One of the recommendations from consultants of FOR Natchez is being fast-tracked, Doyle said, because they are areas where most people agree improvement is needed.

The first is the Broadway Street Depot. Doyle said if Broadway is the foreground of Natchez entertainment — where festivals, concerts and charity walks are held — then the entertainment sector should have a hub.

The depot is that proposed hub. Doyle said she envisions the Depot having a little restaurant where visitors could sit for a moment and plan their next step — something akin to Café Du Monde in New Orleans’ French Quarter, she said.

On Tuesday, Doyle said she hopes to recommend a process and a draft for requests for proposals to the mayor, board of aldermen and city attorney.

After any concerns or recommendations are heard, Doyle said she hopes to finalize the depot request for proposals on Dec. 12.

Another special project, though it is not fast-tracked, is the renovation of the 100 block of North Commerce.

Doyle said she considers this area to be something of an arts district, with the old Ritz movie theater and several art galleries along the roadway.

Doyle said she has a particular interest in the Ritz theater, which was built in 1869 but, after a tornado destroyed the inside in 1998, has been reduced to only its façade.

“It’s an opportunity to construct something new and modern on the inside,” Doyle said. “It has so much possibility.”