Officials seek $10.4M grant for historic African American sites

Published 3:25 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez is seeking a $10.4 million chunk of $1.5 billion available federal funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation to draw traffic to Devereaux Drive and historic African American history sites at Forks of the Road and the Martin Luther King Jr. triangle area.

During a meeting Tuesday, the last day of Black History Month, city officials detailed their plans for the RAISE Grant application approved last month, which stands for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity.

The program aims to help “communities around the country carry out projects with significant local or regional impact,” the DOT states.

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The city’s plans include $10.4 million worth of improvements from the Seargent Prentiss Drive flyover to the intersections of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jefferson and St. Catherine streets, also called the MLK triangle.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said plans are to install signage and artwork to draw individuals downtown from the flyover and encourage traffic along Devereux Drive, where multiple businesses could reap the benefit.

“We want to breathe new life into the Devereux Drive area,” Gibson said. “We’re also including better lighting and landscaping along the median of Devereux Drive. We’re also excited about signage and improvements for pedestrian use in the area of Forks of the Road.”

Gibson said sidewalks and striping around the Forks of the Road site would improve foot traffic for the many who want to visit what was once home to one of the largest slave trade sites in the nation. The grant would allow the renovation of a historic bridge on city property where once enslaved persons crossed the creek on their way to the Forks of the Road slave market.

“We are looking forward to better sidewalks, including one that will wrap the section of the bridge and create a connection to Concord Park,” Gibson said.

The grant application also includes repaving and re-striping St. Catherine and East Franklin streets to include parking, a bike lane and two lanes of traffic, he said.

Finally, the city plans to use the grant to bring Revels Plaza at the Martin Luther King Triangle to fruition.

“Our vision for Revels Plaza will come to pass once we get this grant,” Gibson said, “including the green space and a statue of Hiram Revels, who was once pastor of Zion Chapel A.M.E. church and the first African American to serve in either house of the U.S. Congress in 1870 and 1871.”

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, Natchez Convention Center Manager Walter Tipton presented quotes for new staging for the convention center.

The lowest quote of $50,915 will purchase 27 individual portable stage sections, each 4 by 8 feet, which, when pieced together, will have ample room for a full orchestra during festival events, Tipton said. A second quote was received for $62,328 and the board unanimously accepted the lesser of the two.

The funds for the new state will come out of a 2022 bond issue for $5.35 million for renovations to the convention center, city auditorium and the city’s civic center.

The new staging will be the city’s first investment with the bond, Gibson said.

The Natchez Convention Center turns 21 years old in April and has “the fullest spring schedule we’ve had since we’ve been open,” Tipton said.

Tipton said recommendations from The Natchez Festival of Music and the Bandmaster’s Group, which has an annual conference in December, were considered when selecting quotes for the new stages at the convention center.

“(The Bandmaster’s) conference alone has had over a $3 million economic impact to our city,” Tipton said. “So, we feel like staging is an important aspect because we have multi-purpose facilities and we need these stages to support them.”