Group: Support for Margaret Martin renovation gaining momentum

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, January 8, 2019


NATCHEZ — Supporters of the renovation of the former Margaret Martin High School into a local center for arts and culture say momentum is building.

So too is the list of partners for what organizers are calling the Natchez Centre.

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Dan Gibson, who is helping to lead the effort, met with organizers Monday evening at his bed and breakfast on Washington Street to give an update on the local effort to resurrect the building on Homochitto Street.

A member of the Natchez Festival of Music, which uses the building for its annual productions, Gibson said the growing list of partners demonstrates how much local support the project has.

“This is really a community-wide effort,” Gibson said. “We have a unified vision that encompasses more than the Festival of Music.”

Current partners include FOR Natchez, Natchez Inc., Visit Natchez, the Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce, Natchez-Adams County Education Development Foundation, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, ArtsNatchez Gallery, Historic Natchez Foundation, Natchez Historical Society and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The group hopes the list continues to grow the more others in the community learn about the group’s plans for the building.

In September, the building was closed because of plumbing issues. A water leak discovered in the basement created nearly four inches of standing water.

In the past decade, the city has struggled to maintain the building and has considered various options for the property. Requests for funds from the State Legislature have been made in recent years without success.

The current vision for the building include a center that can host performing arts of all genres, a museum of music literature and film, space for a variety of fine arts programs, classes and lectures and a center focused on the culture of the South.

In late December, Gibson and other organizers met with an architect to review the condition of the building.

Gibson said they were encouraged by the architect’s findings.

“The architect has said the building is solid and worth saving,” Gibson said. “The windows are in great shape, the foundation is in great shape.”

“The basic building is just fantastic,” Gibson said.

Encouraged by the finding, Gibson said the group needs to take the next steps to bringing the project to fruition.

United support is critical to funding from the state Legislature, federal government and other grant sources, Gibson said.

With the 2019 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature convening today, Gibson said time is of the essence.

In the coming weeks, Gibson said the group plans to look at possible ways to organize as an official group that can accept tax-free donations, begin efforts to hire an architect with expertise in the renovation of Mississippi landmarks, look at hiring a professional grant writer and secure a final list of partners to help demonstrate the community’s commitment to the local and state leaders.

The group hopes to present its plans to the City of Natchez by the end of the month to secure its support for the project.