The first item was an appeal hearing for a zoning dispute. Seemingly out of thin air, former planner Andrew Smith appeared to represent one of the parties. You could hear the gasps in the room. Bruce Kuehnle (of Fat Mama's fame) represented the other side. It was an interesting hearing, with each side calling the other a liar or some such. I thought both sides gave persuasive presentations, and I would have had trouble deciding who was right. However, when in doubt, I would go with the Zoning Commission, who had thoroughly investigated the matter. (PS. We have some very qualified volunteer members on the City's Preservation, Planning, and Zoning Commissions.) The Board supported its Commission and voted against Andrew, with his two buddies Mathis and Gray abstaining.
There were a number of people in the audience, several of whom were there for our discussion of the casino. However, it was certainly not overwhelming. Of course, the Board did not ask for testimony. We chose to ask to be put on the Agenda, because it is likely the last meeting before they make a decision. They are scheduled to interview both developers next week and make a selection shortly thereafter.
Gwen Ball testified first, and she covered two main issues. She discussed the poll in the Democrat which asked how we wanted the riverfront developed. The majority wanted it as a park or as it is - and only a small percentage wanted a casino. She made copies and passed it out. Of course, it is not a scientific poll, but it probably does roughly reflect public opinion.
She also talked about the national legislation giving the National Park Service jurisdiction over the riverfront property. This means that NPS can be of assistance to the City as it looks at options for development. Gwen had talked to Kathleen Jenkins (the local superintendent) who verified that she would be more than happy to make the services of NPS available to the City. Does anyone wish to bet whether the City takes advantage of this invaluable resource?
She was applauded when she finished. I went next, and I've copied my testimony below for your information. Of course, I never exactly follow what I've written, but you'll get the general idea. I got applause too - but mostly laughter!
I have been researching riverfront development across the country, and there are some very exciting examples out there that we could learn from. However, my concern is that Natchez is not following the best practices demonstrated by other successful ventures.This is the information I gave them:
- Other successful developments started with the formation of a citizens advisory group, many of which progressed into permanent nonprofit organizations (usually called something like Friends of the Riverfront or Riverfront Development Corporation) whose mission is the revitalization of the riverfront. Has Natchez done that?
- Other cities commissioned feasibility studies, usually funded through grants, to determine the best use of an extremely valuable property. Has Natchez done that?
- Almost without exception, an environmental impact study was also commissioned. Has Natchez done that?
- Successful developments usually include a variety of venues, all available for public use. Has Natchez done that?
- Thriving riverfronts use professionals to develop and implement marketing plans to attract the best offers. Has Natchez done that?
- Riverfront development is almost always part of a comprehensive downtown development plan? Has Natchez done that?
It appears to me Natchez has done none of these things. How can this development possibly be successful when none of the proven steps have been taken? Why in the world are you proceeding in this way?
Maybe you just want results right now and don’t want to wait for any of this nonsense that isn’t important anyway. That is so short sighted. It reminds me of the kid who drops out of high school because he wants money right now and can’t wait around for further education that isn’t important anyway. You know what the future of that kid is – and that’s the future you are giving Natchez by insisting upon a casino – and by refusing to take the necessary steps for the successful development of our valuable riverfront.
I am leaving you some information about other cities with successful riverfront developments, even though I imagine you will just ignore it. I keep coming before this Board with research, facts, and statistics and expecting that you will listen - but you never do. I keep doing the same thing over and over again, and I keep expecting a different result. According to Benjamin Franklin, that’s the definition of insanity. I guess maybe I am insane – and plenty of people have told me I’m nuts for what I’m trying to do. But I love this town, and I have to keep fighting for it, no matter what. So you can call me Crazy Casey, but I’m not going anywhere.
I was looking at the website for Asheville, North Carolina, because I know it has a thriving arts economy. While I was there, I noticed it also has a flourishing riverfront development. It gave a list of other successful riverfront communities, which you should check out.
Beaumont, Texas Burnsville, Minnesota Chattanooga,Tennessee Chesterfield, Virginia Columbus, Ohio Harrisburg, Oregon Hartford, Connecticut Little Rock, Arkansas Memphis, Tennessee Peoria, Illinois Peoria Attractions Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Richmond, Virginia Salem, Oregon Savannah, Georgia Spokane, Washington St. Paul, Minnesota Vidalia, Louisiana Winchester, Connecticut
(NOTE: Vidalia is on the list.)
Asheville is a very impressive city, from which you could learn much. I’ve enclosed a copy of their Goals & Vision brochure. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one for Natchez. Also check out their City Develpment Plan - VERY impressive!
From the Memphis Riverfront website:
"Cities around the world are reclaiming their riverfronts for active use. After long years of neglect, riverfronts are once again becoming centers of intense activity for locals and visitors alike. Parks, marinas, excursion boats, bike and skate rentals, recreation paths, shopping, cultural centers, nature preserves, aquariums, housing and sports complexes are all part of today's landmark riverfront developments." (Note that casinos are not listed.) "See what other cities are doing on their waterfronts by clicking on these links. Then think about the possibilities for the Memphis riverfront.
Richmond, VA http://www.richmondriverfront.com/
Pittsburgh, PA www.city.pittsburgh.pa.us/rfp/
Hartford, CT http://www.riverfront.org/
Cincinnati, OH http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/ stories/1999/10/04/editorial4.html
Louisville, KY http://www.louisvillewaterfront.com/
Chattanooga, TN http://www.chattanoogariverfront.com/index.htm
Sydney, Australia www.dha.nsw.gov.au/