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Trump reforms create ‘opportunity’ for downtown Natchez

From The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — With efforts to revitalize downtown Natchez in full effect, leaders have their eyes set on new opportunities to attract investors to the city’s center.

FOR Natchez, the local nonprofit that commissioned the city’s new downtown master plan, now aims to expand upon the city’s property tax abatement program. By the same token, economic development leaders said a new aspect of President Trump’s tax reform called “opportunity zones” could also benefit new investors in downtown Natchez.

These types of opportunities could complement other types of incentives listed in the plan to attract people to the central business district.

As for the first facet of attracting business, FOR Natchez President Chesney Doyle said the group wants to expand the current abatement program to be more flexible and inclusive.

For years, the property tax abatement program has allowed new investors in downtown properties to freeze their tax rates for up to seven years. For example, if someone bought a property at a low value but then invested heavily, the property’s assessed value would not increase for as many as seven years, rewarding investors by keeping their property taxes down.

To take advantage of this program, however, the investment must be at least $20,000 and at least 25 percent must go toward the public façade.

“What we want to do is we want to enhance that,” Doyle said. “We want to loosen it up a little bit.”

Doyle said dedicating a quarter of the investment for the façade limits people in qualifying for the program.

“We’d like to make this tax incentive more accessible,” Doyle said.

Doyle met with other area leaders, such as Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ, to discuss how to implement the master plan in terms of executing these incentives. During this meeting, another talking point centered on the opportunity zones.

As part of the newly effected tax reform, these zones qualify for reduced taxes on capital gains, which include the profits from the sale of specific types of assets.

Just two months ago, Gov. Phil Bryant approved three census tracts in Natchez to become opportunity zones, including downtown Natchez, which Russ said paves the way for investment opportunities.

“We see the opportunity zone as an opportunity to kind of continue to stack incentives for investment in downtown,” Russ said. “That really is what the goal is: To continue to make the downtown area attractive from a commercial investment standpoint into the area.”

Though Russ said leaders are still trying to nail down how to best utilize the newfound opportunity zone status, he added that it complemented the tax abatement plans and historic tax credits already in place in encouraging capital investment.

Plans to implement these kinds of incentives are laid out in the downtown master plan under section the “economic plan” section. The plan is available for viewing at for-natchez.org.