Downtown Natchez needs some stone soup

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 17, 2018

Downtown Natchez could use another good pot of stone soup, and it appears one is being cooked up, but it needs your help.

If you aren’t familiar with the old fable, the story goes like this:

Hungry strangers come into town with nothing but an empty cooking pot. None of townspeople will give the strangers any food.

The strangers fill their pot with water and large stone and set it over a fire and tell everyone who asked they’re cooking “stone soup.”

Curious townspeople eventually become convinced to offer bits of their own food to help garnish the stone soup, collectively making a fine soup, once the stone is removed.

The moral is simple: Sharing and working together can cause great things to occur.

Natchez’s downtown is one of several jewels the City of Natchez can claim.

Natchez’s downtown is a perfect picture of how diverse the city’s history is.

The location, obviously, is tied to the Natchez Indians being smart in settling in the area where the land rises well above the potential for flooding. After that, the French took control before eventually ceding the land to the Spanish, who set for the grid-like structure of downtown streets and set aside the bluff as a parade ground.

The British came soon after and eventually, the Americans. The Jewish merchant class helped to create much of the commercial downtown landscape.

Today, vestiges of each era of our history can be seen in the structure and architecture of downtown. It’s a stone soup, with each era of history offering a bit of garnish that brings together a special flavor.

The result of all these unique smudges and fingerprints on downtown is the creation of a unique ecostructure that is attractive to outsiders and locals alike.

Downtown, as Mayor Darryl Grennell has recently suggested, is an industry in itself. He’s correct.

But for many, many years that industry has simply operated on its own devices.

Businesses come and go with a few succeeding and many failing along the way.

That downtown remains as vibrant as it is without any concerted effort to cultivate it is a testament to its specialness.

Downtown is a like field of flowers that simply re-seeds itself and blooms annually. But how much better could downtown be, how much more amazing of an attraction could it become, if wise, capable hands tilled the ground, put some order into the plantings and fertilized the ground?

The fact is with a bit of work, Natchez’s downtown may become an attraction as big or bigger than the city’s majestic views of the river or its one-of-a-kind collection of architecture.

The City of Natchez is working on recreating an organization that has been defunct for a number of years, a downtown Natchez development agency.

Such an entity is needed for Natchez’s downtown to truly soar.

And while the City will likely help fund the entity, it’s important to learn lessons from our past.

We need to make sure the new entity has authority to go along with the responsibility for improving downtown. That means finding an excellent director, equipping that person well and then getting political hands out of the mix.

The public private partnership created several years ago when Natchez Inc. was formed shows that when the political leadership is involved on equal footing with the private sector, the needs of all parties are well served.

Downtown needs a gardener of sorts with an evangelist’s focus. We need someone who wakes up each day and focuses on a simple, but important goal — make downtown Natchez better.

Like the stone soup fable, if we all work together and bring what we can offer to the table, the work needed for downtown can come quickly, but we all must set our egos aside, focus on the task and contribute what we can to make Natchez better.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.