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Mixed-use renovation leads to new life for historic building

HATTIESBURG — A Hattiesburg landmark located in the heart of the downtown, the six-story Faulkner Building at the corner of Main and Front streets, is getting new life as it enters its second 100 years by being renovated to accommodate apartments, offices and retailers.

“It is the first major mixed-use project in Hattiesburg where apartments and businesses are combined in the same building,” says the architect for the project, James Polk. “It is a major undertaking for the downtown. The critical ingredient necessary to manifest an active and vital downtown is residences. When people live downtown there is activity on the street. And when you have activity on the street, businesses can flourish. There is a synergy between people living downtown and businesses being profitable downtown. They feed off each other.”

Beverly Magee, chief administrative officer for the City of Hattiesburg, said the Faulkner Building renovation is an important step in improving the perception of the city’s downtown.

“I think it is going to make a very positive impact to the downtown area to make available apartments and additional retail,” Magee said. “It makes the downtown come alive when you have people living in the downtown and people coming and going to eat at restaurants and shop.”

The project is being developed by local businessman Mitchell Morris. Morris said he wants to see Hattiesburg’s downtown restored to its former prominence, and sees the Faulkner Building renovation as part of that picture.

“On the upper levels of the building where the apartments will be, you get a different perspective of Hattiesburg,” he said. “It is almost like being out in the country up on a hill. You have a great view of the historic district, and you can see Hattiesburg for what it really is.”

Morris believes downtown revitalization would take a huge step forward if the city would build an additional parking garage downtown. Additional parking is needed to attract more retail to downtown, as well as mixed-use projects such as the Faulkner Building.

“To get more retail, you need more parking,” Morris said.

The Faulkner Building is in remarkably good shape, considering it is 100 years old. It has remained occupied in recent years with tenants in about 50% of the six-story, 30,000-square-foot building. The renovations will allow the building to be utilized to its full capacity.

Plans being developed for the building include retail on the ground level, offices on the second, third and fourth stories, six or seven one-bedroom and studio apartments on the fifth floor, and four luxury apartments on the sixth floor.

Some of the apartments on the fifth and sixth floor will have balconies, and the building will also have a rooftop deck for use by its inhabitants.

The balconies and rooftop deck on top of the second tallest building downtown will afford a panoramic view of the city.

“There is something very special about having a bird’s eye view looking down on the city,” said Polk, whose office is in the building. “It is very exciting and exhilarating. It gives you the sense of being on top of the world.”

Polk expects there to be no shortage of people interested in living in the new apartments within walking distance of restaurants, nightclubs, art galleries, the library, post office, city, county and federal offices, and retail outlets.

“There is a certain type of person who enjoys urban life,” Polk said. “In Hattiesburg, especially with the university here, there is a certain subculture that loves the city. From that subculture comes our market.”

He refers to Hattiesburg as a “micropolis,” a city that has all the attributes of a metropolis, only on a smaller scale.

“This is the type of development that you would see in larger cities,” Polk said. “And it is a part of Hattiesburg’s natural maturation process as a city.”

When the Faulkner Building was constructed at the turn of the century, the streets in Hattiesburg were still dirt. It originally had offices on the upper levels with retail on the ground floor. A postcard from the early 1900s shows the ground floor housing a bookstore, Hayes & Field.

As with a lot of other older buildings, renovations were done in the 1950s to make the building look more plain. Cornices and overhangs were chopped off. Polk said that was part of a movement to make buildings plain and expressionless.

“What you see today on the Faulkner Building doesn’t have the grandeur it had originally,” he said. “So what we are going to do is bring back some of the flair that was in the original building, and enhance that with 21st Century amenities.”

The interior structure of the building is intact. The building was spared major interior renovations that could have compromised the structural integrity of the building. The building is wood frame, built with a tightly-grained pine that is stronger than wood that can be purchased today.

“I appreciate the craftsmanship of older buildings,” Polk said. “I enjoy working on interesting historic buildings, and this one stands out because it was built as a show-place for business and commerce. And I love the artistic flair in the details.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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