DOWNTOWN POSSIBILITIES: Data guides discussion on business development

Published 5:42 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Natchez’s Main Street organization is looking at ways to capitalize on 2 million-plus annual visitors to the downtown Natchez area who spend roughly $1.1 billion each year by developing businesses that fit market needs.

According to a consultant, the types of businesses that could successfully reach downtown visitors and residents are grocery stores, men’s and family clothing stores, home furnishing and décor, liquor stores, food and non-alcoholic beverage bars, and full-scale restaurants. These were listed as business possibilities using data involving the downtown Natchez Main Street district.

The non-profit Downtown Natchez Alliance has sought out Joe Borgstrom of Place + Main Advisors, LLC, a nationally recognized downtown real estate and economic development firm, to help develop a game plan for the development of real estate in downtown Natchez.

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After a walking visioning tour where 50 plus interested partners in the general public offered ideas of what they would like to see in vacant buildings and parcels, Borgstrom gave a possibilities presentation on Wednesday morning at the Natchez Grand Hotel using a data-driven approach.

The presentation included current and projected market data that includes demographic trends and retail leakage — the difference between supply and demand in the market — and identified potential business opportunities for downtown.

The provided data included some surprising trends for those attending.

Using geofencing — a virtual parameter — market data is obtained by tracing the number of people using a mobile phone within an area, tracing what time they are visiting and where they are coming from.

“Over the last year, you guys have had over 2 million visits into downtown,” Borgstrom said.  “That’s not just tourism. That’s residents (too). That’s everybody coming and going within the downtown area.”

That population of visitors will spend upward of $1.1 billion, including online sales, groceries, and retail, according to the market analysis. Looking forward five years, Borgstrom said that is estimated to grow to $1.21 billion in sales with a supply and demand difference of around $50 million.

Natchez visitors have a wide age distribution, but the largest visitor demographic for downtown Natchez is 18 to 29 years old followed by 60 to 69 years old. The largest and most notable spike in visitors last year happened in mid-October during the Natchez Balloon Festival.

Consistent with the age demographic, the visitors’ incomes primarily fall in the median of $30,000 to $55,000.

“Downtown Natchez presents itself as a very high-end downtown … but I want to share this today with a little bit of caution because even though everyone’s very proud of a high-end downtown we have a tendency then to kind of skew towards tourism,” Borgstrom said. “I worry about that because even though I think tourism is very important I always tell folks that if you create a community that is great for your residents, tourists will find it. If you create a downtown for tourists, your residents will hate it. So, it’s really about creating a balanced downtown, keeping in mind the kind of the community you’re serving and not just the potential customers.”

Another demographic Borgstrom shared, “67% of visitors are white and 30% are Black. Your demographics are just the opposite. So, we’re not having as many Black visitors to downtown as we are white. That’s a red flag to me. That tells me that we’re not serving the community downtown much as we can and should be.”

The development possibilities Borgstrom listed keep both tourists and residents in mind so that the businesses are sustainable “not just during tourist seasons but year-round,” he said.

Next in the process, DNA states that chosen properties will receive an on-site visit from the consultant who will evaluate the property for the potential fits and uses, including potential business types that would meet market needs in the community.

These property owners will be provided with a spreadsheet and costs for redevelopment of their properties, all at no cost to them.

The project has been fully funded via the Mississippi Main Street Association, a federal USDA grant, and the DNA Main Street organization.

Borgstrom said Natchez downtown’s top needs are additional housing and development incentives. Borgstrom said there is also a lot of opportunity for development grants on historic properties.

“We believe this is as close to as accurate (data) as we can get. But at the end of the day, if somebody has an idea for a business that wasn’t on this list I’m not going to tell you that it’s not going to be successful,” he said.

To view the full downtown retail market analysis, visit