Crowd inspects old depot on Broadway Street

Published 12:32 am Friday, February 8, 2019


NATCHEZ — Approximately 35 people crowded into the former train depot on Broadway Street Thursday morning to inspect the building, ask questions and consider the future of the building.

How many people were seriously considering the building as a future business venture was unclear.

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Chesney Doyle, chairman of the city’s depot committee, said she was encouraged by the number of people who came for Thursday’s conference for the city’s upcoming request for proposals for the building.

“Several people represented here today, have consistently shown interest (in the project),” Doyle said.

Originally part of RFP issued in December and then withdrawn by the Natchez Board of Aldermen in January, the conference and walk-through offered those interested in submitting a proposal to come see the building and ask questions.

“Our No. 1 goal is to get this project right,” Doyle said to the crowd Thursday. “This project is not about the city collecting rent money or making a profit.”

“It is about revitalizing the area,” Doyle said.

The 2,250 square- building is part of the city’s master plan for revitalizing the downtown area by creating an entertainment district along the bluff and a historic/entertainment district at St. Catherine Street. Doyle is the president of FOR Natchez, a nonprofit group that helped lead the development of the city’s master plan.

Mingo Tingle, Chief of Technical Preservation Services at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, answered questions about the property’s Mississippi Landmark Status and MDAH’s commitment to work with future developers.

As a landmark property protected by MDAH, plans for the building must be approved by MDAH.

“We want to make sure key elements of the building are retained,” Tingle said.

One of the key elements is the terrazzo floor that is original to the building. Although some of the floor was removed previously, MDAH said they want to keep what remains preserved.

Tingle said previous plans to renovate the interior by New Orleans businessman Warren Reuther had been approved by MDAH, including studs that are still in place.

Previously the city had leased the use of the building to Reuther and a subsidiary of his company New Orleans Hotel Consultants. Reuther had intended to create a tourist center.

Amid controversy about how the lease was offered to Reuther without a public request for other proposals, the city canceled the agreement with Reuther in October 2016 and agreed to pay him $80,000 to reimburse Reuther for the costs of the renovation work he had completed.

“Everything that was (in Reuther’s plan) was approved by us and can be reused,” Tingle said.

Tingle mentioned that one of the benefits of the building is that the state and federal government offer tax credits — 25 percent for the state and 20 percent for federal taxes — for the rehabilitation of historic structures used for business purposes, provided that it meets eligibility requirements. The combined federal and state credits can reduce the cost of restoring the building significantly, Tingle said.

After the presentation, questions were raised about the status of the adjacent parking lot owned by the Callon family and about the cost of capital improvement and how it would affect the proposed base rent of $27,000 annually.

City Attorney Bob Latham said the city had been negotiating with the Callons to obtain the parking lot, but that those efforts have stalled, for now.

“We will have to wait and see on the Callon parking lot,” Latham said.

As to whether the cost of capital improvements can be applied to against the rent of the building, Latham said that is something that could be proposed by a developer.

“It is all negotiable and flexible,” Latham said.

Doyle said she expects the Natchez Board of Aldermen to reissue a request for proposals in the next three weeks, with changes that have come out of conversations with likely proposers.