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Group suspends fundraising until future of Margaret Martin building is decided

 

NATCHEZ — A local organization interested in rehabilitating the Margaret Martin building on Homochitto Street has temporarily stopped fundraising, the group’s leaders said, while a film company explores the possibility of acquiring the former schoolhouse.

Thor Juell, vice-president of business development for Dunleith Studios, said producer and actor, Jake Seal is in the final stages of closing on the purchase of the historic Dunleith mansion.

Jake Seal is an actor, director and film producer who owns Plantation Village Studios in Jackson, Louisiana, which has attracted movies such as “Oblivion,” starring Tom Cruise, “Free State of Jones” starring Matthew McConaughey and “The Magnificent Seven.”

After the purchase is complete, Juell said, Seal plans on negotiating with the city to obtain the Margaret Martin building that currently serves as a center for performing arts and houses the Natchez Festival of Music.

“We are definitely interested in acquiring the building,” Juell said. “We’d like to make it a usable production environment and also a space for the larger community to host various events and continue to do some of the cool things they do currently.”

Juell said the Dunleith Studios group also is working with Alcorn State University and Copiah Lincoln Community College in Natchez to potentially start educational programs in film production at the new facility.

The “Friends of the Natchez Centre” committee, a local group centered on repurposing and refurbishing the Margaret Martin building has raised nearly $3,500 toward the renovation, said Dan Gibson, committee spokesperson.

Gibson said the committee agreed to table fundraising efforts until their meeting next month and any funds raised for The Natchez Centre would be assigned to the use and discretion of the Natchez Festival of Music.

“We are very interested in the prospect of having a private entity rescue this important landmark, and we hope to reach out to them soon to discuss how the Festival of Music might continue to be involved,” Gibson said.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said no hard discussion of transferring ownership of Margaret Martin has taken place yet, adding he is open to the possibility.

“I did meet with Thor about a month ago, and he is excited about it, but there have not been any talks at this point about conveying Margaret Martin over or anything like that,” Grennell said. “If they are interested, they need to meet with me and express that interest so that I can talk to the city attorney and the Board of Aldermen about it.”

City Attorney Bob Latham said in order for the city to transfer ownership of the Margaret Martin building, they would first have to make a legal determination that the property is surplus and could then sell the property to the highest bidder.

In another scenario, Latham said, the city could negotiate a property sale to a single entity without seeking bids if it is deemed that the entity could bring economic prosperity to the community as a result.

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