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Margaret Martin is a worthy project

Another Legislative session has come and gone and the Natchez-Adams County contingent had some wins and losses.

Wins for Natchez and Adams County this term include transfer of ownership of the Natchez Visitor Reception Center to the National Park Service, $1 million for continued construction of the Belwood levee project near the Natchez-Adams County Port and funding for the Proud to Take a Stand Monument that Natchez plans to build to memorialize the Parchman Ordeal in which civil rights protestors were unlawfully imprisoned in 1965.

All of those measures, however, still depend on Gov. Phil Bryant’s signature, and we are keeping our fingers crossed that he will sign the bills that contain those measures into law.

The biggest legislative disappointment, perhaps, for the Natchez-Adams County community this year was that a proposed $6 million funding mechanism to repair the former Margaret Martin School building got cut from an appropriations bill at the last minute by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who also is running for governor this year.

We’ll see how that works out for him at the polls later this year.

The defeat was a disappointment not only to many people in the community but also to longtime District 37 Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, who earlier this year announced his plans to retire and not seek re-election to the seat he has held since 1980, with the exception of one term in which he was defeated.

Dearing expressed his disappointment with Reeves cutting the Margaret Martin funding very publicly on social media and in comments to the media.

“You would think with both the House and Senate passing the bill (including money allocated for Margaret Martin), that they would keep the project in the bill,” Dearing said. “I am so very, very disappointed.”

Dearing has been a relentless warrior for Natchez and Adams County for approximately 40 years, and he has vowed he will continue to advocate for legislative projects, such as the Margaret Martin funding, that are vital to our community, after his retirement as a private citizen.

His work on behalf of Natchez and Adams County will be sorely missed, and we can only hope that whomever is elected to succeed him will do as much good as Dearing has done for the community.

Thank you, Sen. Dearing, for your efforts. I wish you the best in your retirement.

Meanwhile, advocates of the Margaret Martin renovation project are not giving up their efforts to move forward with necessary work on the historic building.

Dan Gibson, of the Friends of the Natchez Centre organization, is vowing to continue with fundraising and renovation efforts for the facility that was home to the Natchez Festival of Music.

Gibson has recently made the rounds to civic clubs and organizations sharing the group’s vision for the Natchez Centre, as the building would be called.

The vision includes restoring the grandeur of the 1940s-era building and making it a cultural center similar to the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs.

The Mary C., if you’ve never visited it, is a renovated school building from the same era, and it is now a great venue for traveling performers, including rock ’n’ roll acts, stage productions and radio shows, to name a few.

It also has spaces for art exhibits, art classes and culinary classes.

Making the Margaret Martin facility similar to the Mary C. would be a great addition for Natchez and Adams County, and I for one wish the Friends of the Natchez Centre much success in their fundraising efforts.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at scott.hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com or 601-445-3540.

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