We all want a more prosperous and vibrant city

Published 10:00 am Sunday, February 12, 2023

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I would like to thank the people who came out to two well-attended meetings recently downtown.

There was the meeting with Shelly Hartfield of American Cruise Lines at Natchez Coffee one dreary Ground Hog Day morning. The room was full, and people were really engaged in the conversation.

Mickey Howley

Then, last Tuesday after lunch at the Natchez Convention Center, a webinar on how to address vacant commercial buildings in a downtown district. That was a packed room and folks were enthusiastic about the future of downtown Natchez.

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The turnout for both tells me people are interested in seeing this town move forward and downtown be re-vitalized even more. That’s great, your presence and engagement in the effort are key.

There are two more such meetings to put on your radar. Next Thursday, Feb. 16, from 1:30-2:30 p.m. at 621 Franklin Street, there will be a welcome and merchant meeting with the new American Queen Voyages president Cindy D’Aoust. She’ll be in town to discuss goods and services in Natchez that AQV and their customers might use. Come talk to the new president and say what you think.

In March, and we have not set a date yet, Dr. Rachael Carter with the economic research department of the Mississippi State University Extension Service will be in town and present recent economic data from her research and survey.

I have worked with Rachael on several projects across the state and her analysis, projections, methodology and results are top notch and it is information you can take to the bank, literally. Her data will give us the economic picture of where Natchez has been, where it is now, and where it is going. We can change the destination by the way. But is it data you can take to the bank if you were using it to expand a current business or start a new one.

At the National Main Street webinar last Tuesday, the topic was how to re-activate vacant properties downtown. Talked about were the number of methods and techniques to do that, how to re-imagine new businesses in these historic commercial spaces.

There are more than several vacant buildings downtown, even more vacant upper floors.

And a vacant building costs, in a negative way, the property owners near it. On average, it costs a 20 percent drop in value. Right, your building is worth significantly less if the building near you is empty. And historic commercial vacancy cost the community in lost sales, jobs, taxes, and upper floor housing rents to the tune of $400,000 a year. That’s the average community dollar loss for one regular size commercial building in a small American town if it is vacant, not counting the surrounding real estate devaluation.

So, look around and look up and see what is not being used or way underutilized.

There are other people who do this work along with National Main Street and they each bring a perspective and reasoning to the effort — groups like Smart Growth America, Place Economics, Strong Towns, and Recast City.

I invite you to read their information and learn of their work as well. We all want the same result, a more prosperous and vibrant city for all of us.

Mickey Howley is executive director of Downtown Natchez Alliance.