Downtown Merchants: ARPA funds will soon be available to revamp downtown buildings

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 2, 2024

NATCHEZ — The Downtown Natchez Alliance delivered good news to downtown merchants at their monthly meeting Wednesday morning at Natchez Coffee Company.

The DNA will soon be soliciting proposals to receive grant funds through the American Rescue Plan Act. The funds are specifically for building façade, balcony and awning projects for Main Street communities, said Jo Ann Brumfield, the new 2024 president of DNA.

As a Main Street community, “We can get national grants,” Brumfield said. “Not just state. We can go after the big bucks.”

Email newsletter signup

Natchez re-joined the Mississippi Main Street program in June 2022 after a number of years away from the program.

Natchez is a recipient of $100,000 to disperse for eligible projects, but the applicants must also be able to match the funds with their own for the projects.

Past president Michael Pace said the project proposals must also meet stringent federal guidelines.

“They’re very specific about how we spend those dollars,” Pace said. “What we don’t want is to give you money and then have to come back and get it from you later because we didn’t follow the guidelines.”

While ARPA funds are limited, Natchez has additional incentives for those looking to rehabilitate historic buildings.

Those who apply for the city’s property tax abatement program can have their property tax frozen at the pre-renovation level without an increase, Brumfield said. However, currently this incentive only applies to city tax and not county taxes.

The structuring of DNA administration is undergoing changes in 2024.

Brumfield said there has been a job posting for a new DNA Executive Director with the departure of Mickey Howley, whose resignation was announced Jan. 19.

At the same time, it was announced Brumfield, the past chair of DNA’s promotional team, has taken the helm as president of the Board of Directors.

The board also includes Norma J. West, DNA treasurer; Chesney B. Doyle, DNA secretary; Pace; T.J. Baggett; Robert Pernell; and Brenda Zerby.

Grant funds from the Delta Regional Authority have also allowed the hire of Dian Lusher as a business consultant to oversee training and educational services.

Among Lusher’s responsibilities is facilitating employer round table discussions, the first of which takes place Thursday at the Natchez Convention Center.

Downtown business owners also met Lusher and received her expert advice on business marketing during Wednesday’s meeting, instructing them on video and social media marketing.

Additionally, a nationally renowned revitalization expert Joe Borgstrom will be in Natchez for a walking tour of downtown on April 16 and 17.

Brumfield said Borgstrom will make note of undeveloped and underdeveloped properties and give report on what can be done.

“We’re excited that he’s coming to Natchez,” she said.

Part of DNA’s New Year Resolution is obtaining more feedback from downtown businesses, Brumfield said.

“We’re looking for major input from everyone. Feedback. Let us know. If you have something to say, say it,” she said. “We’re on the right track. Everything we’re doing is good. We just need to step it up to the next level. We will need input and help from everybody.”