Downtown infrastructure project questioned by aldermen

Published 12:28 am Monday, January 15, 2018


NATCHEZ — City aldermen expressed concern Friday about a potential infrastructure project for downtown Natchez that would cost approximately $1.7 million.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation’s FAST Act Alternatives would give the city a chance to implement new sidewalks, add aesthetic lighting and reconfigure areas of downtown that are currently not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other adjustments.

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The city would need to commit approximately $410,000 to the project, which would mostly be paid out over the course of fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

Applications for the grant are due by the end of this month, but city officials effectively decided not to pursue the grant this year.

Four of five aldermen present voiced concern when Community Development Director James Johnston brought the option forward during the board’s finance meeting.

The concerns were twofold: the financial burden and the potentially disruptive effect the project could have on local businesses.

Following Johnston’s presentation, Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard first voiced his opposition to the project.

He said the city would likely need the $410,000 for other projects, as he hoped the city would get in the habit of spending only out of necessity in order to save enough to establish a “rainy day fund.”

Dillard’s second concern pertained to the businesses along downtown’s primary corridors, where the construction would mainly occur.

“The chance of disrupting the businesses onto our two main business corridors — Franklin and Main (streets) — for the extent of this period I think would be devastating to these businesses,” Dillard said.

Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier, Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith and Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving also expressed similar concerns about the project.

Smith said a long-term plan for downtown’s infrastructure is a good idea, but the cost of the project would be too much to take on right now.

Johnston said he realized the city had obligations to consider other than this project.

“You have to prioritize what you want to do, and I understand that,” Johnston said.

Johnston did not request any action from the aldermen following the discussion.