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Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center broken into, vandalized

NATCHEZ — Natchez police are investigating a break-in and extensive damages to the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center on Homochitto Street that were discovered Wednesday.

Natchez Festival of Music Chairman Diana Glaze said she heard through word of mouth that a person might have been camping out at the former school that now serves as an event venue for the music festival and other Natchez performances.

Glaze said she went to Margaret Martin after noon Wednesday and found the padlock on the back entrance open and extensive damage throughout the building.

“There was a lot of damage inside the building,” Glaze said. “The door was unlocked and open — the side door. I immediately called Jody Rutter (building inspector) with the city and he called the police. Going through the building, we saw that every door had been broken into. They had broken into the office and found the keys and those they didn’t have a key to they just broke into. …

“They got into the costume room. Some of our costumes were spread all over the place. The bathrooms were all used but not flushed. … There was just destruction and nastiness throughout the building. The props room was a disaster. When we left it everything was cataloged and stored on a shelf or in boxes and it looked like a hurricane had just come through there.”

Last year, city officials spent $60,000 on plumping repairs because of leaks that rendered the building unusable.

Glaze said the new copper pipes had been removed.

“We found they had been taking copper from all of the new plumbing that was done in the last year,” she said. “We found a bin full of copper, brass and wiring that looked like it was ready to go out the back door. We found ladders in place under copper piping. The water was turned off. … I hope we found it in time to save a lot of the plumbing that was still there and to fix the pipes.”

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong said investigators are following leads to locate the missing copper and asked anyone with additional information to contact the Natchez Police Department.

“We’re asking anyone who has information about the break-in to contact the police department,” Armstrong said. “Anyone knowingly purchasing stolen items will also be subject to prosecution.”

Rutter said the building hadn’t been occupied since the conclusion of the Nutcracker performance by the Natchez Ballet Academy in December.

Rutter had a new lock placed on the doors, Glaze said, adding she is concerned about repeat break-ins at the facility unless more is done.

“I’m concerned that if they got in once they’ll do it again,” she said.

Glaze said the opening of the music festival is scheduled for May 2 and could be moved to the Natchez City Auditorium if repairs can’t be made in time.

Last year, a group organized to spearhead a $7 million renovation of Margaret Martin hired Belinda Stewart — an architect from Eupora, Mississippi — to create a report that details the plans for the building and their estimated cost.

Stewart will be presenting the report at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Natchez Grand Hotel, said Dan Gibson, spokesman for the group.

Gibson said the ultimate goal of the report is to secure funding from state legislators.

“There is all the more reason now for us to raise the funds,” Gibson said. “Right now the building isn’t being used the majority of the time and is a target. For as long as the building isn’t in use, we run the risk of any we put into restoring it being lost. … Our plans are long-range plans that will not only get the building secured but in a condition where it is no longer a target.”