City gets $1.2 million EPA grant for Fry Building clean up; big step forward for Eola project

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

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NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez has received a $1.2 million Brownfield Clean Up grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use in cleaning up hazardous materials in and around the Fry Building, located at the corner of North Pearl and Franklin streets in downtown Natchez.

“This grant is a very important step forward in the Eola redevelopment,” said Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson.

In August 2021, a development team involving Hayes Dent, president of Public Strategies and an affiliate with Endeavour Corp., a development group owned by Randy Roth, and Robert Lubin, who owns the Eola Hotel and originally developed the Magnolia Bluffs Casino, which he has since sold, would renovate and reopen the 1927-built Eola Hotel. Dickie Brennan, the famed New Orleans restaurateur was and remains a part of the Eola project, said Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson.

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Since that original announcement, construction costs have skyrocketed and the project has been tweaked to accommodate that increase, but plans are still in place to eventually move forward.

The mayor said the Eola project cannot move forward until the Fry Building is taken down, and that can’t happen until materials like asbestos and soil contaminants are abated.

The best part is the grant money requires no local match of funds.

“We are so pleased that we received word late yesterday that the city’s fiscal year 2023 EPA Brownfield Clean Up grant application was awarded. We’ve been waiting on this grant for many, many months and we are so excited,” Gibson said. “It will address primarily asbestos and soil contaminants.”

He said the next step is to complete the procurement process to hire a qualified environmental professional for the project.

“We have already begun the process for gathering and completing the pre-award documents for submission to the EPA. Once we go through that process, we will look to that appointed professional, who will likely be an engineer, for guidance. There are lots of factors when you are dealing with hazardous waste in an old building like the Fry Building,” he said.

He said in order for the Eola project to move forward, it must have adequate parking.

“Back in the day, when Eola guests parked along the street, that may have been fine then. But now we actually have a parking problem in downtown Natchez because of the renewed activity we are experiencing downtown,” Gibson said. “Whether it we will ultimately afford a very nice parking lot or a parking garage remains to be seen. This is the first step in that process. $1.2 million is a very generous award that will go a long way toward making that happen.

“On behalf of the city and the board of aldermen and our Eola partners, we want to thank the EPA for their confidence in our Natchez Renewal as we move forward with these revitalization efforts. We want to make sure to thank our congressional delegation for their continued support of Natchez.

“And we are very grateful to (the city’s Community Development Director) James Johnston. Without his expertise, this would not have happened,” Gibson said.