Corinth — Two years ago Leon Frazier was killed in a freak accident trimming trees.
A long-time businessman with deep roots in this northeast Mississippi town, Frazier built a successful custom motor coach business that counted among its clientele some of music’s biggest names, including Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones and Garth Brooks. Brooks even dedicated his album Sevens to Frazier. Frazier’s sudden death was a blow not only to his clients and family but to his business interests and business partners.
“He’s been missed very much,” said Jay Shannon, a partner of Frazier’s in what is now a successful assisted living development outside Tupelo called Dogwood Plantation. “As a person and business man he was an asset.”
Frazier may be gone but his dream project, starting a second Dogwood Plantation to serve the elderly in Corinth, Alcorn County and beyond, is not. Although it has had its set-backs, Shannon said hopes are for the first units to open in August.
The Corinth project was just beginning, and a decision was about to be made on the final location, when he was killed. But Frazier’s family regrouped and is now actively involved in bringing the project to fruition, Shannon said.
In fact, Frazier’s daughter, DuJuana Frazier Thompson, will be administrator of Dogwood Plantation in Corinth.
Thompson said what sells Dogwood Plantation is the sincere desire to create for the elderly a comfortable and desirable place to live not die.
“Our main goal is to create a happy home atmosphere,” said Thompson, who worked closely with her father at Custom Coach. “It is not a nursing home. This is not just some place where people come to die. This is their home and we want them to be happy and enjoy their home.”
The family ran Senators Coach Buses for a brief time after Frazier’s death but eventually a decision had to be made whether to continue that successful operation or concentrate on building something new. They choose the latter, Thompson said. “My mother and I had to decide where we could put most of our energy,” she said.
The business, which was started in Collierville in 1982 and moved to Corinth in 1986, was sold last August and work quickly began on getting Dogwood Plantation up and running.
The site of the project, just off Mississippi 45 across from the newest state welcome center in Corinth, has been prepared and construction is underway with plans to open in early August, Thompson said.
Although Dogwood Plantation will be the first assisted-living apartments in Corinth, Charles Gullota, president of The Alliance in Corinth said more are to follow. The area’s above average elderly population, location to good health care services and other amenities, have attracted at least two other developers who are considering similar projects in the area, Gullota said.
Phase one of Dogwood Plantation calls for the construction of 21 apartments, with 18 being one-room apartments and four being two-room suites. Although not firm, rent, including utilities, will average around $1,500 per month, Thompson said. And with four months until opening Thompson expects to open with a 50% occupancy.
In addition to the apartments, a main kitchen and dining room will be constructed where residents will be served three “home-cooked meal” every day, Thompson said. Laundry and maid services will also be provided and licensed medical staff will monitor the health of residents and assist in dispensing medicines.
Almost as soon as the first apartments, dining hall and administration offices open, Thompson said a second group of 21 apartments will be started on the 10 acre site. A third phase is even planned for the future.
Shannon, Frazier and a silent partner started FSL Enterprises in the early 1990s to investigate what Shannon said he saw was a huge business opportunity in providing assisted living care for the growing elderly population in the area. A former sales representative for Corinth-based Outdoor Communications Inc., for over six years, Shannon got the idea he could run a successful assisted living operation after visiting his grandmother at her retirement home at Traceway Manor in Tupelo.
After two years of research and the financial backing of people like Frazier, the first phase of Dogwood Plantation opened in Saltillo, a small but growing bedroom north of Tupelo. Although the idea was to locate the first operation in Corinth three years ago, Shannon said being a relatively new concept he felt it had to be close to the health care services in Tupelo.
The Saltillo operation opened pretty much like Corinth but today has more than doubled in size and employs 45. The one notable difference is that it took six months for the first apartments in Saltillo to fill-up, Shannon said, adding he doesn’t think that will be the case with the sister operation. The key, said Shannon, who is administrator in Saltillo, is sincere service.
“What we’re doing, and what is so hard for some, is real personal care,” he said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. With this market you can’t be too attentive.”
Now with three successful years under its belt, and a little maturation in the industry, Shannon said he believes Dogwood will succeed in Corinth and he is already looking at expanding possibly into New Albany.