Wednesday, November 29, 2006

What the Mayor & Aldermen Are Up To

Last night was a fairly interesting meeting, as these things go. (See article in Democrat.)It was delayed for 30 minutes while they fought over something in the back room - about which, of course, we have no knowledge. However, it started with a bang.

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.
  • 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.

This is the information I gave them:

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/

16 comments:

Vidalianism said...

Casey you may be spending your time and energy in the wrong places. If you would like to see an art community in Natchez then perhaps the same effort would be better spent atempting to contact and recruit people who would invest in that regard or take interest in making that a reality. Maybe you could work with the EDA on that effort. They are already funded for that sort of thing with your tax dollars.

It seems irrational to assume that the Mayor and Board of Alderman should not entertain proposals or work with developers of other interests until such time that someone presents them with proposals for arts related projects. There's ample space and opportunity in downtown Natchez for an art school, art community, artist colony, galleries and whatever else. And there is no good reason why a casinos, hotels, oil companies, condos and a traditional business community cannot exist there as well.

Natchez and Adams County would likely collectively embrace any art related development. But I doubt the Mayor and BOA will craft and fund anything without someone bringing in a proposal with dollar signs behind it. The city certainly cannot make it happen alone, they cannot even pave the streets.

Ideas without dollars and action are worth nothing and are just that, ideas. Talk is super super cheap. Criticism and negativity accomplish nothing, and opinions are like assholes - everyone's got'em and they all stink.

Q:
Why does Vidalia have a Doctors office on the most valuable parcel of property on their riverfront?
A:
Because sometimes you have to take what you can get and then see what happens from there.

OH, and one more thing:

They have Casino's in Santa Fe!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Wow!!! Those are some cool links to other riverfront cities that Casey cites! This from the Pittsburgh link:

Riverfront Develpment Principles:

1) Insist on interconnected, linear waterfront development with broad public access by...

a) Encouraging the use of the riverfront greenway as a daily commuter path and recreational amenity.
b) Demonstrating the connection between access, greenway development and market demand.
c) Creating a coherent, visually pleasing order to the water’s edge.

2) Create synergy between office, retail, residential and recreational use of key waterfront sites by...

a) Selecting the most imaginative development concepts and architectural designs.
b) Establishing the riverfront as a front door to the city.
c) Enhancing real value and competitive market advantages for private developers.

3) Protect and enhance the natural riverfront environment by...

a) Documenting the ecological state of our riverfronts in order to preserve this environmentally diverse
natural habitat.
b) Preventing and, where possible, eliminating inappropriate uses and practices from the rivers’ edge.
c) Protecting existing natural areas from development.

4. Reclaim Pittsburgh’s identity as one of the world’s great river cities by...

a) Raising public expectations of what the city’s riverfront offers.
b) Attracting people, investment and the best aspects of urban living to the waterfront.

THIS IS WHAT NATCHEZ NEEDS - A COMMON VISION FOR THE RIVERFRONT AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES THAT EVERYONE SUPPORTS. THEN, SOME CONCRETE PLANS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Chesney Doyle said...

Hello everyone,

Casey, thank you for the tremendous research you did. I've checked out most all of the links and it is very inspiring to see what other river cities are doing.

I was struck by the cities who are trying to "re-establish" their identities as River Cities. At first, I thought how does a town forget that they are a river city? Then I realized: I live part time in Atlanta and I would guess that a great number of residents have no idea that the (formerly) beautiful Chattahoochee River runs right through this place. It's just so built up and polluted that you can't really see it anymore unless you get on one of the deep woods jogging or biking trails.

I strongly agree with Vidalianism that those of us who would like to see a diversified economy (arts, sports, parks, education, traditional industry and business, a casino or two, condos) need to get concrete opportunities and ideas to the Mayor and City Council.

However, I don't think that the City's only role is to react to what is placed before them. And, I doubt that any of our elected leaders believe that is the case either!

What is missing from the Natchez equation is a long-range comprehensive plan that has widespread community support.

Apparently the City Council has not felt that they have the time or the resources to stop and plan.

Perhaps this is because Natchez is so NEEDY now.

If I represented a district where a large number of workers were UNEMPLOYED and struggled to pay their mortgages and care for their families, I too would be more interested in an opportunity to get 300 jobs NOW, as opposed to spending a year in comprehensive planning to maximize our overall economic situation.

We MUST work together to find a way to create JOBS NOW and, at the same time, launch a long term comprehensive plan for Natchez that includes everything from regional Little League tournaments to a (couple?) of strategically placed Casinos to enhanced local educational opportunities to thriving arts industry to tourism and national parks and a new found pride in the natural magnificance of our city's front yard: our riverfront.

Yes, we need to get traditional industries to Natchez to replace those we have lost. And we need this as soon as possible. Then, one by one, individuals who are struggling can get back on top of things. Then, perhaps this would relieve the pressure on our City Council to sell and/or develop our most signifcant public real estate asset: our bluffs and riverfront.

It's a real conundrum because livability (education, neighborhoods, arts, community resources) play into major corporations' decisions to locate new facilities. The top notch companies need to attract top notch managers, usually in mid-life with children. A livable community is a key consideration. A small town economy based purely on Casinos, for instance, might be a turn off. I would think so.

But back to the long-range plan ideas and some steps that the City Council could initiate sooner than later, here's what I would do (and yes I will formally propose this to the Mayor directly since just blabbing away on the blog is no substitute for action).


1) As a first step, the mayor and city council could craft a vision statement, similar to the Pittsburgh or Ashville examples cited in this blog. This stage should involve town meetings and public input. And it can be done with or without a consultant, using the very examples cited on this blog. (However, it would be best to engage a consultant to spearhead the project.)

ALL of the ideas floated on this blog and in letters to the editor and at city council meetings and by developers with dollars should factor into a general "vision."

2) Next, the city researches and interviews qualified (preferably new urbanist) planning consultants who created plans for other cities that Natchez would like to emulate. Then we hire one of them to create a master plan for Natchez.

The plan is based on the vision statement and development principles that the City Council has prepared after taking into account the needs, concerns and desires of the citizenry.

Then, we all get in the business of making the vision a reality at every level.

In the meatime, we all need to join the City Council and the County in trying to get some serious job opportunties in Natchez sooner than later! I really don't know what's on the table other than RenTech and, of course, the Casino proposals. I guess I need to find out.

But, it's a chicken and egg puzzle.

Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Casey,

Your tenacity is both commendable and admirable. I wish citizens from all areas of our city would take a stand as you have done. Most people may view you as one who causes trouble, but I view you as a citizens who has the nerves to stand up for what is right. For too long the citizens on this community have been passive participants in government and look where we are today.

Thanks for all that you do for our community.

Anonymous said...

Chesney Doyle,

Natchez has a master plan that includes all of the things that you discussed. It was prepared about four years ago. Go to City Hall and ask for a copy of the City's Comprehensive Plan. It has sections on downtown development, the historic district, land use, commercial corridors, etc.

The problem is this: THE MAYOR AND BOARD OF ALDERMEN HAVE NO CLUE REGARDING THE IMPORTANCE OF IMPLEMENTING THE PLAN.

The plan was prepared by professional consultants. It has become a "shelved plan" because no implementation of it has been done.

Check it out. You may also find a copy at the Engineering Office at Natchez Water Works.

Chesney Doyle said...

Thanks for the info.

I will go down to the City's Engineering Office and get a copy of the 2002 (?) Comprehensive Plan. And I will read it. I'll also ask the Democrat to do a summary of it for their readers.

Wonder why the City is disinterested in the plan and a large number of citizens are unaware that it even exists?

I hope everyone who reads this blog and cares about Natchez will go get a copy of the plan. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You may want to get a copy of the Chadbourne(sp?)Plan too. That is the one that the preservation ordinances are based upon I believe.

Anonymous said...

The Natchez Riverfront Development Group is a "NEWLY CREATED" group out of Jackson, Mississippi. The group is headed up by Attorney Tony Gaylor, formerly of Natchez. He was one of the attorneys brought in to do the convention center bond refinancing. We all remember that, right?

The other person (manager) of the group is Willie Mott. He was fired by the City of Jackson's Redevelopment Authority. He was one of the key people on the Farish Street Historic District redevelopment project. Has anyone seen Farish Street lately? The project has been stalled for several years.

Given that today's Natchez Democrat gives a development plan from this group for 3 1/2 years, we may as well get ready for a repeat of what was done in Jackson.

When will this administration learn? You CANNOT do things under the table and expect it to come out smelling like roses.

To view the information on the company's incorporation, go to www.sos.state.ms.us

From hear you will click on the Business Service icon, then click on business search. Type in Natchez Riverfront Development Group and you will see the document.

Wow!!! It's amazing what a little research can do.

I guess "It's a Small World After All."

Anonymous said...

Elkington taking redevelopment magic to New Jersey and Jackson

John Elkington, CEO of Performa Entertainment Real Estate, is taking his development prowess on the road, focusing on reviving distressed urban areas in other cities.
In Jackson, Miss., Performa Jackson is developing the $12 million Farish Street Entertainment District, which leases buildings on Farish Street from the Jackson Redevelopment Authority
At least five businesses have committed to opening in the district. Those include Wet Willie's daiquiri bar, Funny Bone comedy club, Crescent City Beignets, King Biscuit Cafe and Mississippi BBQ Co. B.B. King's Blues Club has signed a letter of intent, but is still negotiating for a building in the district.
"We have become a specialist in distressed areas like Beale was, areas without development and commerce for many years," Elkington says.
The project has been in the works for almost a decade; Elkington first submitted his plan to Jackson's city council in 1996. In 2002, Performa signed a 46-year lease to develop the district with 80,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and entertainment space and 150 housing units.
The district was once the center of the black community in Jackson where Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers had an office.
Willie Mott, executive director of the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, says the first phase of the project should be open in June 2006 and once that is complete, the district should become a major tourism draw.
"It will bring people from all over the region and maybe as far away as Chicago," he says. "It means a whole lot to us."
In Trenton, N.J., Elkington has teamed up with Lindsay Burbage, commissioner of USA Baseball; William Dickinson, principal of the Wet Willie's daiquiri bar chain; and Steven Dixon, the former executive director of the Mercer County Improvement Authority, to create Performa Trenton. Trenton is located in Mercer County.
Performa Trenton is developing a $22 million, 160,000-square-foot entertainment district called The Foundry. It is going up near the 10,000-seat Sovereign Bank Arena and Waterfront Park, the home of Trenton's minor league baseball team.


***** THIS PROJECT HAS NOT HAPPENED IN JACKSON *****

Check the records for yourself. What is this company's track record? Have they ever done a project? After all, they were just formed in November of 2006.

These questions should be asked at the meeting on Monday.

Anonymous said...

WHY ON EARTH DON'T PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THIS. HOW CAN THEY GET THE NEWS IF THE PAPER DOESN'T TELL THEM?

Anonymous said...

Casey,

Do you know if there is any validity to this?

I do know that the Jackson project has not happened.

Something does not smell too good. After all, it is "THE WEST ADMINISTRATION".

Anonymous said...

I guess we have to rely on this blog for the real information.

The Natchez Democrat is "MIA"!!!

Chesney Doyle said...

Anon (see above) was right about the CITY PLAN.

Natchez does have a comprehensive city plan and it was OFFICIALLY ADOPTED BY THE CITY.

"The 1999 Comprehensive Plan for the City of Natchez"

I confirmed this with David Gardner’s office, the Natchez City Planning Office and Larry Smith of the Central Planning and Development District Office (CPDD) in Jackson, who prepared the plan.

The plan is dated November 23, 1999.

Background
Mississippi is divided into 10 planning and development districts. Technically, Adams County is in the Southwest Planning and Development District (SWPDD), which is headquartered in Natchez and run by executive director Wirt Peterson. However, the SWPDD, does not have the planning staff and capabilities of the Central Planning and Development District (CPDD), which is based in Jackson.

So, in the mid-1990s, Mayor Butch Brown (1992-2000), City Planner James Shelby (who now works for the Atlanta, Georgia Planning Department) and the SWPDD contracted with the CPDD in Jackson to prepare a comprehensive plan for the City of Natchez.

The CPDD website is http://www.cmpdd.org/. CPDD is a sub-state regional nonprofit corporation. Their services include:
- Planning & Management
- Transportation Planning
- Economic Development
- Community Development
- Small Business Assistance
- Workforce Training

Content of the Plan
I have not seen the plan, but I have purchased a copy directly from CPDD for $25 and it is being federal expressed to me for Monday arrival here in Georgia.

Friday afternoon, I spent an hour on the phone with Larry Smith, who headed up the project for CPDD.

1 - Larry Smith told me that the plan was developed over a 4-5 year period and involved many town hall meetings and public sessions.

2 - He said that the plan did NOT recommend expansion of waterfront gambling.

3 - He said the centerpiece of the plan was a bluff/riverfront PARK that would be the terminus of the Natchez Trace.

4 – He said that the next recommended step was to overhaul the land use or zoning ordinances in Natchez and Adams County. He said that his office has not had any contact with Natchez since former Natchez City Planner David Preziosi resigned and left Natchez during Mayor Hank Smith’s administration (2000-2004)

5 – He said that Ms. Corrine Fox, a well-respected fellow planner in Jackson who is a private consultant, mentioned to him recently that she was working with Natchez on some things, but he did not know what.

6. Ms. Fox is the planning consultant recently hired by the city to overhaul the zoning ordinances.

The Planning Commission was working with Fox to develop comprehensive rezoning map. They were having public hearings and were ready for a final draft when City Planner Andrew Smith was fired. I’ve been told that one part of the plan allowed for Patio Home zoning, and I believe they may be going ahead with that.

7. In the proposed new zoning plan, casinos were a permitted use in the waterfront. Several local activists asked that Casinos be a conditional use - i.e. would have to have a hearing first, but that was not adopted.

8. I do not know if the new zoning plan is in synch with the official Comprehensive City Plan or if the new zoning plan take off in a different direction

9. The 1999 City Plan was done pre-Stabillization Wall of course.

TO GET A COPY OF THE CITY PLAN:
1) Sharon in the Natchez City Planning Office (second floor of CITY HALL) has multiple copies of the plan for purchase. You may buy one there for $25.

2) You can also purchase one directly from the CPDD
P.O. Box 4935
Jackson, MS 39296-4935
Phone: 601.981.1511

I hope this is helpful.

Anonymous said...

The park you are speaking of is the one that is underway by the National Park Service and the Trace will Terminate at the Visitor's Center. Bluff Stabilization was underway in 1997.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the National Park was SUPPOSED to stretch down to and include the Silver Street Riverfront.

But, after testifying about all this before Congress and getting the funding, the city renigged.

They carved out of the NPS deal, the beautiful green bluff top hill behind Rosalie and now it is a huge asphalted parking lot for the Casino (this is the spot where the Natchez Indians massacred the French). They also carved out and they sold the public riverfront and dock on Silver Street for the casino.