A Mississippi community plugs into internet to power up downtown

A view of downtown Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez, Mississippi has never been connected to the interstate highway system. Today, with help from Smart Growth America, it is revitalizing its historic downtown and also working to connect to the rest of the world through a newer medium: high-speed, broadband internet. 

Natchez’ success has always been based on its connection to resources, commerce, and culture. The Natchez Trace—a historic forest trail connecting Natchez to Nashville—and the Mississippi River were important connections for Natchez to the outside world. And while Natchez has not been connected to the interstate highway system to date, there is a new “highway” that is arguably more important for the city’s future: high-speed broadband internet.

After watching a webinar showcasing our Cool & Connected workshop—which helps communities leverage broadband Internet as a tool for downtown and economic revitalization—Natchez’ leaders reached out to Smart Growth America about bringing that tool to their town.

Expanding broadband, revitalizing downtown

Natchez’ existing broadband internet access was an important focus of the workshop. While some residents reported robust high speed internet service, others struggled to get online. This is a particular concern for schools, health care facilities, and emergency responders—all of which have experienced outages. Working with Broadband Catalysts—a specialist in internet service—we recommended a number of steps intend to help Natchez achieve reliable, redundant communications to address those service gaps. We also encouraged Natchez to pursue the creation of a downtown free public WiFi zone that would benefit businesses in the center of the city while also enable residents and visitors to get online in our increasingly connected world.

A small group discussion at the workshop

The workshop also took a close look at Natchez’ historic downtown and other local assets. Last year, Natchez adopted a robust and award winning downtown master plan. The Smart Growth America team reviewed the plan and offered suggested first steps as the community begins to implement it. For example, the historic Eola Hotel, vacant since 2014, is poised to return to life as a hotel or to be converted into affordable housing units. Other historic buildings with vacant upper floors are prime targets for new housing. By using its existing historic buildings to create new amenities and housing, Natchez can turn them into assets that pay dividends to the city and strengthen it’s economic outlook.

Another important cultural and historic landmark in the area is the Grand Village of Natchez Indians. While the landmark draws visitors, it’s not easily accessible from downtown. By working with the state to guide tourists from downtown to the Grand Village site and creating a sense of arrival once they reach it, Natchez can bolster the success of both.

The workshop was funded at no cost to Natchez by a grant that Smart Growth America received through USDA’s Rural Community Development Initiative program. To learn more about Smart Growth America’s work under this program, see our rural development page.

Interested in bringing Smart Growth America’s experts to your community? For more information on our technical assistance program and how your community can request assistance from us on a variety of land use, development and transportation challenges, please visit this page.

Economic development Rural Development Technical assistance