Looking into the future: Officials consider options for depot request for proposals

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 24, 2018


NATCHEZ — The old Broadway Street Depot saw more activity Friday morning than it has in two years.

City of Natchez officials, including Mayor Darryl Grennell, Alderman Dan Dillard, City Planner Riccardo Giani, Building Inspector Jody Rutter and others joined representatives from FOR Natchez to discuss how the old depot could be turned into the centerpiece for the Broadway Entertainment District. The district, which would include areas along the bluff, is one area of focus for the upcoming master plan spearheaded by FOR Natchez.

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The master plan, which is currently being finalized, identifies the depot as the hub of the new entertainment district. Both local focus groups and the consultants recommend the building contain a food and beverage establishment that would cater to locals and tourists who use the bluff daily.

Local officials spent the morning looking at the building to discuss what options could be pursued to show prospective tenants how the space could be turned into a full-service restaurant.

Any future plan would have to be approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, which oversees the use of state landmark properties such as the depot.

After the meeting, Grennell said turning the building into an eatery — whether a small coffee shop or fine dining restaurant — makes sense.

“Today it was obvious there is an opportunity to have a restaurant at the depot,” Grennell said. “So many people come to Natchez and the river on the bluffs, so why not have a great restaurant where people can enjoy the view of the river.”

Previous proposals for the building have included a small gift shop, coffee bar and visitor center. The plan, which was developed during Mayor Butch Brown’s administration, was approved by MDAH.

The depot was briefly leased to a company owned by New Orleans hotelier Warren Reuther, whose businesses also own the Natchez Grand Hotel and are contracted to manage the city’s convention center. Reuther began funding the interior renovations of the project. The city canceled the lease in October 2016 and agreed to pay Reuther $80,000 for work done.

Since then, the building has remained empty until last month when aldermen voted to craft a request for proposals for the project.

FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle said through the master planning process, both residents and consultants made clear that they wanted the building to be a food and beverage area.

“The overwhelming consensus is that it be the hub or centerpiece of the new entertainment district,” Doyle said.

Grennell said the property has an opportunity to be an economic generator for the bluff area.

“It has the opportunity to ignite some excitement for economic prosperity in the area,” Grennell said.

Dillard, who is chairman of the city’s public properties committee, said that he and other officials have discussed how to make the building “a place for tourists to find consistency — coffee in the mornings, sandwiches at lunch and heavy hors-d’oeuvres and a glass of wine in the evening.”

Dillard said he could envision numerous options for the building other than a full-service restaurant, including inviting local restaurants to feature their specialties for tourists to come enjoy. Such options need to be considered, Dillard said.

Doyle said the goal is to make the building a meeting and gathering place for all who use the bluff.

“We want to attract a creative food service entrepreneur who can come in and really make this the centerpiece of the area,” Doyle said.

Doyle said whichever tenant is selected would be responsible for the tenant build out of the space.

Grennell said he hopes the details for the request for proposal could be hammered out in the next three to four weeks. After the aldermen had a chance to review the RFP, Grennell said he hopes the board would give its approval soon after.