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City approves final lease for historic train depot on Broadway Street

NATCHEZ — On Tuesday, the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted to execute a lease for the historic train depot on Broadway Street to be renovated into a restaurant and entertainment space.

Natchez City Attorney Bryan Callaway said the lease of the city-owned property to Church Hill Music LLC — which is owned by local film producers Tate Taylor and John Norris — is renewable after five years starting May 1, 2021.

The rent has been set at $1,700 per month, which is above the legally required minimum rent of $1,540 based on three different appraisals, Callaway said.

A credit can also be applied to the monthly rent for permanent improvements to the property. Church Hill Music agreed to invest more than $1 million worth of improvements at the facility.

However, Taylor said their vision for the bluff goes beyond that with the addition of a small amphitheater consisting of a semi-circular seating area that terraces up on the river-facing side of the property towards the walking trail and possibly a children’s playground near the depot among other enhancements in the future.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and history “did not balk at the idea of having a playground” in the vicinity of the depot, Taylor said.

“It won’t be plastic or ugly,” he said of the play area. “We’re going to make it beautiful.”

Norris said construction is ready to start now with the restaurant projected to open sometime this fall.

In addition to these enhancements, the Church Hill company also plans to bring live entertainment to the bluff beginning with the inaugural Mississippi Mudbug Festival, which is scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 15, on the bluff. The festival will include live music, C&M Crawfish with a variety of other food and beverage vendors. Gates will open at 1 p.m. with music beginning at 3 p.m. and tickets for the event are on sale now at ardenland.net.
The lineup includes a medley of country, southern rock and zydeco music brought by Riley Green, Drivin N Cryin, Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience, Southern Avenue and The B3.

“The bluff is going to be this spot unlike any place on the Mississippi River,” Taylor said. “The music we’re bringing is going to be multicultural and it is for everybody.”

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the board also agreed to the final map of proposed locations for Viking and American Cruise Lines’ docks and to start the prep work for leasing the spots to the two riverboat companies.

Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson said the same measure was approved for American Queen Steamboat Company to dock at the Fulton Street landing across from The Camp restaurant during a previous board meeting.

In the proposed lease, each company will pay the City of Natchez $2 per passenger each time they dock.

The Viking dock would be at the existing Ferry Street landing off of Silver Street.

American Cruise Lines would dock at the end of a 380 foot-long gangway that extends out into the water and attaches to land approximately 100 feet South of the Ferry Street landing, Gibson said.

When not in use by American Cruise Lines, Gibson said the gangway would be open to the public for viewing purposes.

Additionally, American Cruise Lines and Viking pledged $250,000 each to raise a section of Silver Street past Magnolia Grill to prevent flooding, Gibson said. It’s estimated that the full project will cost $750,000.

Gibson said once City Attorney Bryan Callaway draws up the lease agreements, it would be brought back to the board for final approval. The leases and proposed plans for Silver Street must also be approved by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, he said.

Gibson said expects the docks to be finished in the early part of next year and the raising of Silver Street to begin in June 2022 and be finished the following September.

“We now have accomplished what many said couldn’t be done,” Gibson said. “Some said we couldn’t have any more than two cruises dock here. As of today, we will have three docks right here in Natchez.”

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