JACKSON — The redevelopment of Westland Plaza Shopping Center has pumped new blood into one
of the busiest trade centers in the state and has become a case study for cities with similar community
Located at Ellis Avenue and Robinson Road in Jackson, the first shopping center of its size built in the
state has undergone such a transformation that shopping center developers across the nation have asked
to study the redevelopment plan.
“In the 1980s, the neighborhood began to change from a suburban, primarily white neighborhood to an
urban, primarily ethnic, neighborhood,” said James E. Maurin, chairman and CEO of Stirling
Properties, based in Covington, La. “When we took over the management contract a few years ago, it
was a center of crime. Now it has become a center of commerce again.”
At first glance, Maurin said renovation efforts looked hopeless — until he met with city and community
leaders. The city was able to pony up $183,500 through the facade matching grant program, community
leaders pledged support, and “all of a sudden, we did believe this hopeless case had some hope,” he
The decision to move forward with refinancing and redevelopment was based on an owner investment of
more than $2 million, the facade renovation grant, annualized NOI of $871,000 as of June 30, 2000, and
a 70% LTV (loan-to-value ratio) of $6.1 million.
David Wallenstein of Dallas, one of the plaza’s owners, said he invested in the project after Jitney
Jungle and the U.S. Postal Service renewed long-term leases, and after the city provided facade grant
funds and promised a stronger police presence.
“We could see the vision to turn what was a dying center into…a real anchor and a benefit to the
community,” he said.
When Westland Plaza opened in 1958, with 77,000 square feet of space, there was little or no
competition, and Jitney Jungle and Kroger peacefully co-existed.
The changes that led to the demise of Westland Plaza are partly attributed to a change in demographics
for the metropolitan area. In 1970, the population in Hinds County was 214,973. In 1990, 254,441
people resided in the county. By 1998, the population dropped to 248,054, with an estimated decrease to
245,594 in 2000.
During the same time period, Rankin County listed 43,933 residents in 1970. In two decades, the
population jumped to 155,096. By 2000, the population was estimated at 183,842.
Only 29,737 resided in Madison County in 1970. By 1990, the number jumped to 53,794. By 2000, the
population was estimated at 83,528.
Last year, the population within a one-mile radius of Westland Plaza was estimated at 14,247, with
89.5% black and 9.7% white. The median age was 29.5, with a median household income of $21,458,
according to demographic estimates and projection from The Polk Company Micromarketing Data and
In 1978, the sales volume at Westland Plaza was approximately $23.8 million. By 1998, merchants
reported annual sales of only $13.5 million. Contributing factors for poor performance were attributed
to owner control, a downward trend in real estate values, added competition and reduced owner support
of the merchant’s association. In 1979, when the Metrocenter Mall opened, the prime interest rate was
From 1978 to 1998, Jitney Jungle doubled its square footage from 16,000 to 32,000. The U.S. Post
Office expanded its space from 6,130 to 16,750 square feet. McRae’s, Woolworth’s, and Dollar
General closed, and Weiner’s, Marty’s Menswear and Family Dollar opened. Net cash flow decreased
During the same time period, real estate taxes increased 120%. Even though the assessed value rose a
scant 8%, from $832,400 to $900,550, actual taxes spiked from $66,113 to $145,411.
Even though the age of the center, the conversion of vacancies to a plain shell, multiple vacancies and
unusable space, crime and safety and tenant retention, were among the many concerns for rehabilitation,
Stirling Properties announced its renovation plan last September.
The next month, Jitney Jungle filed for bankruptcy protection, and the future of Jitney locations was
uncertain. Two months ago, Weiner’s filed for bankruptcy protection.
“Even though we didn’t know at first, we were not impacted by the filings,” said Donna F. Taylor, vice
president of asset marketing for Stirling Properties. “That Jitney store has been sold to Winn-Dixie
and will remain open. We know the name of the store will not change. We also know that Weiner’s
likes this location and plans to keep it open.”
The restoration included new parking lot lighting, a resurfaced and restriped parking lot, signage,
upgraded facade and renovations to 30 storefronts. The reconfiguration of the center included
demolishing Shoney’s, Lee J’s and two smaller buildings to improve visibility. The Jackson Police
Department located its neighborhood enforcement team (NET) and domestic violence units between
Weiner’s and Family Dollar.
The end result
The renovation process, which created 30 temporary construction jobs, was completed this summer, and
the center now employs around 400 people.
“This is wonderful news for the people in this community as the city continues revitalization efforts
here in west Jackson,” said Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. “A safer Jackson is a more
economically vibrant Jackson.”
So far, projections are on track. Retailers have indicated an increase in sales, and more traffic is coming
into the shopping center. Stirling Properties is at the bargaining table for several leases, and a new tenant
is expected on the “hard corner” soon, Taylor said. “After 25 years in the business, I get more
satisfaction from bringing one back from the dead, which is what we did at Westland Plaza, than
building something new in an upscale community,” Maurin said.
Contact MBJ Contributing Writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@ yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967