We need to keep Natchez’s heart beating strong

Published 1:19 am Sunday, February 25, 2018

If Natchez were a person, downtown would be its heart.

And like any good cardiologist would say, taking care of our heart is critical because we only have one.

Planner Phil Walker and his team likely never went to medical school, but they nonetheless offered an interesting and intriguing long-term prescription for Natchez’s heart.

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The downtown master plan unveiled Tuesday can be intimidating, just like a doctor saying your LDL is too high and your HDL is too low and handing you a nearly 200-page book on healthy lifestyles.

But if you peel a layer of the onion, you realize the master plan is not going to be something accomplished in one fell swoop.

Implementing even portions of the plan could potentially take years.

But the key thing to realize and believe is that much of the plan is possible and should be worked.

Taken in small bits, many of the options listed in the master plan are not enormous in nature, scope or costs.

Just like a doctor’s advice to eat healthier, the master plan appears to contain a number of good, relatively simple things that can be done to change our old habits and start fresh.

Among the no-brainers listed in the plan is cleaning up the area around the MLK triangle and making some public space out of what is now a broken patch of concrete used for a parking lot.

How cool would it be to have that turned into green space and have a large statue of Hyram Revels, the first black man to be elected to the U.S. Congress?

Planners referred to the drawing of the area as Revels Plaza and that seems to fit nicely. Such a venture would certainly not take a terribly large amount of money, and some of the funds could probably be raised from private sources.

It would begin to change the look of this key entry point into downtown.

Other parts of the plan include constructing an amphitheater on the bluff, which could provide a great location for outdoor festivals and concerts, giving even more reason for visitors to come.

The plan even considers whether or not some downtown streets should be converted to offer two-way traffic.

If you haven’t looked at the plan, please spend a few minutes to review it. An electronic version is available in PDF format at for-natchez.org, the grassroots, nonprofit that coordinated getting the plan moving and getting community members from all walks of life involved in providing ideas for the plan.

Read it with an open mind of what could happen if Natchez and Adams County worked together on projects. The skeptical, my glass is half empty, readers will find everything in the world wrong with the plan. They’ll point out all the reasons why it will not work.

Those same people are probably the descendants of people who claimed the tiny bands of American colonists could not win their freedom from Great Britain or that humans could not walk on the moon.

Of course, creating some green space, building an amphitheater and creating a cohesive plan for downtown streets, traffic flow and potential building projects are not the stuff of rocket science or revolution, but for Natchez the stakes are just as high.

The creed used by NASA scientists working on the lunar missions applies equally well to Natchez — Failure is not an option.

Natchez critically needs to get organized, clean up our city and make a plan for growth.

Will implementing even a portion of the plan cost money? Absolutely.

At least some of that money is probably already being spent on other things in the city that may not be critical.

Imagine how quickly the plan could be implemented if city leaders committed just one-quarter of the proceeds from the city’s lease agreement with Magnolia Bluffs Casino to implementing the plan. That simple action would apply more than $250,000 each year to the plan to invest in our city’s future.

Whether you like downtown or not, it is among our community’s absolute best assets, our heart if you will. And we must keep it beating strong for generations to come.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.