Master Plan for downtown Natchez near approval
Published 12:01 am Thursday, May 3, 2018
NATCHEZ — For one last time Wednesday, city officials discussed the future of downtown Natchez before they set revitalization plans into motion.
City aldermen, local leaders and a few citizens gathered to consider any last-minute revisions or comments regarding the plan to revitalize the Natchez bluff as well as the MLK Triangle area by the intersections of Martin Luther King, St. Catherine and Franklin streets.
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But for the most part, officials said the plan looked good to go for its potential adoption Tuesday.
“I see no reason why we shouldn’t be able to pass this and get it in play,” Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard said.
Some changes to the original plan, however, did come up in the meeting, mainly the idea of implementing curb-extensions — also known as bulb-outs — as a traffic calming device throughout downtown. The bulb-outs would be circular extensions at certain sections of streets that would leave pedestrians a shorter stretch of roadway to cross.
The idea, however, was not well received, specifically by the preservation community, said Chesney Doyle, who heads the nonprofit FOR Natchez that commissioned the revitalization study project.
“They felt like it would make us look like every other new community in the world with the red brick crosswalks,” Doyle said. “They said our brand is that we have these square corners that were laid out by the Spanish and that’s what makes us different.”
Bulb-outs are still included in one of the plan’s appendices, but Doyle said she and the project’s steering committee felt that they could “give in” on that idea.
Other residents have also expressed that they do not want the bulb-outs, Ward 4 Alderwoman Felicia Irving said. Specifically, she said residents have told her they do not want the bulbs at the corner of Martin Luther King and East Franklin streets.
The discussion prompted a general point by Dillard, who said he wants to ensure the city moves forward without changing what makes it unique.
“If we’re not careful, we could homogenize ourselves where we’re no different from anything somewhere in Oklahoma or Virginia or anywhere else,” Dillard said. “We have to be careful. We have a genuine product here.”
Ward 2 Alderman Billie Joe Frazier echoed that sentiment.
“I don’t think we should change too much in Natchez, because it is very, very unique,”
Frazier said. “We’ve got to educate our people and train our people that (say), ‘We don’t think there’s a lot here.’ But it’s a lot here. There is a lot of history, a lot of everything.”
Still, officials did rehash popular ideas that arose from the plan, such as making an area on North Broadway Street into an “entertainment village,” turning the Triangle into an African-American cultural arts hub and preserving historic buildings in that area.
Referring to that last bullet point, resident Duncan McFarlane stressed the urgency of restoring some of those buildings, but also made a point to ask where the money would come from to cover those expenses.
To that, Dillard responded that he hoped private dollars would play a big role in those types of developments.
“We have to get it out there that there are some economic developments out there where if you’re first, you’re going to be in a good spot to do it,” Dillard said.
To conclude the meeting, officials said they hoped to approve the plan at Tuesday’s regular meeting, scheduled for 11 a.m. at the City Council Chambers.
Doyle said she would have to see if the consultant team in charge of the plan would be able to get the final version ready in time, and in the event they could not, the approval would likely have to wait for the board’s next meeting two weeks later.