Downtown Natchez Master Plan

Executive Summary

Plan Purpose

The purpose of this plan is to provide Natchez with a blueprint for revitalizing the historic Downtown. Because Downtown Natchez is a complex and multi-faceted place requiring an equally complex and multi-faceted solution, this plan is holistic in that it will not focus on any one specific aspect of the study area, but rather it considers it in a comprehensive manner – physical, economic and social.

Plan Sponsors & Committee

The primary sponsor of this project is FOR Natchez (Friends of Our Riverfront – Natchez), a non-profit organization focused on preserving and enhancing the historic Bluff and downtown through responsible economic development and urban planning. Funding for the project came from a diverse set of stakeholders who wrote over 300 individual checks to privately fund this totally transparent public process. The City Council unanimously adopted the project in October 2015. To help oversee the preparation of this plan, FOR Natchez appointed a 13-person Project Steering Committee, representing a diverse set of stakeholders and the City created an Advisory Committee with two city council liaisons and three city department heads. Dozens of meetings included property owners, merchants, business owners/operators, developers, preservationists, residents, young mothers, young professionals, young black entrepreneurs, and more.

Project Study Area

The study area includes the following boundaries: Orange Avenue on the east, the Bluff edge on the west, Madison Street on the north, and Orleans Street on the south.

Why is Downtown Important?

    • Downtown is where much of Natchez’s history occurred.
    • Downtown is the institutional and cultural center of town.
    • Downtown is owned by everyone.
    • Downtown has the “Smartest Growth” in Natchez.
    • Downtown defines your sense of place.
    • Downtown is your postcard location.

    “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…”

    Daniel Burnham (1907)

    Father of American City Planning

    Planning Process

    Explained in detail in the plan document, the key steps of the process included:

    Task 1.0: Research & Analysis
    This initial diagnostic step included six sub-tasks, some of which were conducted during the consultant team’s First three-day trip to Natchez. It also included a series of Stakeholder Group Meetings and a Public “Kick-Off” Meeting.

    Task 2.0: Charrette & Concept Plan Development
    A “charrette” is an intensive process in which numerous people work together over a limited period of time to develop creative ideas for solving problems. Although this project encouraged strong public input throughout the its life, Task 2.0 offered the single greatest opportunity for meaningful “hands-on” involvement of key stakeholders and the general public. The goal was to provide a forum to achieve consensus, and the most tangible outcome was the creation of a Concept Plan for the Downtown.

    Task 3.0 Preparation of the Draft Master Plan
    The plan document was organized into the following sections: Background, Plan Overview, Downtown Design Plan, Sub-Area Plans, Economic Plan, and Implementation. A critical underpinning of the plan was a market analysis to project future demand for Downtown housing and retail uses (including dining).

    Task 4.0: Plan Presentation & Revisions
    This task included a presentation for further public input.

    Sub Areas

    This plan proposes three distinct sub-areas. Two are already discernible – the riverfront Bluff anchoring the west end of Downtown and the MLK Triangle anchoring the east end. However, the centrally-located Arts District is less evident and would require development. Each sub-area is summarized below:

    Bluff District
    This area is bound on the east by Canal, the west by the bluff edge, the north by Madison, and the south by State. The key spines are Broadway and Canal, and the most significant feature is the Spanish Parade Ground. This open space also includes a historic railroad depot and magnificent views of the river.

    MLK Triangle District
    This area is bound roughly by Orange on the east, MLK on the west, High on the north and Franklin on the south. It is anchored by the small triangular property giving the area its name, and landmarks include the Zion Chapel AME Church and the site of the Rhythm Night Club. This area is in dire need of revitalization, and some of the historic buildings are at risk of collapse.

    Arts District
    The 100 block of North Commerce has been identifieded as a potential arts district. It is the natural bridge between Main and Franklin and is identifiedied as the center of the city by an historic cornerstone. The area is already home to several art galleries, and a rebuilt Ritz Theater would be the crowning jewel.

    Urban Design Plan

    Urban design involves the physical layout and character of features such as streets, streetscapes, buildings, parking and public spaces. The plan includes many detailed urban design recommendations, but the key principles are as follows:

     

    • Preserve, rehabilitate and utilize all historic buildings.
    • Develop compatible infill buildings where sites exist.
    • Create streets and streetscapes that are user-friendly to all modes of transportation, particularly pedestrians.
    • Enhance existing public spaces and create new ones.

    Key Projects

     

    1. Mixed Use or Residential Development
    2. Hotel Expansion and Parking Deck
    3. Depot Improvements – restrooms and outdoor dining
    4. Ellicott’s Hill Plaza and Farmers Market to
    5. Replace Relocated PO
    6. Reduced and Landscaped Parking Lot
    7. Compatible Infill Housing
    8. Stage Pavilion
    9. Existing Casino and Parking Garage

    Recommended Financial Incentives

    Among the recommended incentives are the following:

    • Property tax abatements: freeze on post-rehab assessed value
    • Tax increment Financing (TIF): leveraging future tax revenues
    • Fast-track approvals and reduced fees: reduces approval costs
    • Management incentives: help from downtown organization
    • Infrastructure incentives: encourages adjacent development
    • Rehab investment tax credits: promote existing state and federal programs for historic building rehabilitations
    • Opportunity zone: promote status to attract private investment

    Overall Plan Implementation

    This plan includes an entire section on plan implementation, but key ideas include:

    • The top priority should be the establishment of a downtown revitalization entity with a full-time director.
    • One of the most urgent needed actions is the preservation and rehabilitation of the decaying historic buildings in the MLK Triangle District.
    • “Low hanging fruit” includes public policy amendments, conversion of key one-way streets to two-way flow, and rehab of the Broadway depot.
    • This plan should be a “living document” for adaptation as conditions change and opportunities arise.