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Firm makes commitment to downtown ‘renaissance’

JACKSON — After almost 150 years of law practice in the Southeast, Phelps, Dunbar, LLC has a history of long-term relationships — for example, the company history notes their role in forming the New Orleans Pacific Railway Company, now a part of Union Pacific, beginning a 124-year relationship with the company.

And it looks like when Phelps Dunbar came to Jackson in 1986, they meant to form a commitment to the state and the downtown Jackson area as well, announcing recently a 12-year lease to move from three floors at SkyTel Centre to the fifth and sixth floors of 111 East Capitol Street by June.

Rick Bass, managing partner for Phelps Dunbar in Jackson, said the decision to move had both business and community concerns behind it.

“If you want to be a player in any city, you’ve got to be where the action is,” said Bass. “It was apparent that we can best serve our clients down here.

“And frankly, we wanted to be a part of the renaissance of downtown,” Bass continued

John Lawrence, president of Downtown Jackson Partners, said, “I think Phelps Dunbar made an outstanding decision. They will be centrally located and just a few blocks from the new entertainment district, Union Station, Phase One of the Convention Center and several other exciting projects taking place in the area.”

Bass said the downtown Jackson area was the epicenter of local, state and federal government presence in the city as well, giving the 111-person office ready access to state courts, federal courts, state offices and the Legislature, as well as city and county governmental operations. Phelps Dunbar offers a smorgasbord of areas of expertise for their clients — among them being maritime, environmental, intellectual property and tax law — with a long history of defending corporate clients in various legal disputes.

Phelps Dunbar first came to Jackson in 1986 with less than 20 employees by assimilating the Jones, Mockbee, Bass, and Hodge law firm into their organization with Clifton Hodge Jr. as the managing partner. Bass noted they were the first out-of-state law firm to move into the area. They moved into the SkyTel Centre in 1992, a Parkway Properties building.

The 111 East Capitol move continues their strong relationship with Parkway, said Steven Rogers, president and CEO of Parkway Properties.

“They looked the market over a couple of years ago,” said Rogers, noting that the work began to select their new location within the past 12 months.

“We’re very pleased to have Phelps Dunbar stay in downtown and stay in one of our buildings,” said Rogers, whose company also owns One Jackson Place and the IBM Building. Other tenants at 111 East Capitol include Merrill Lynch, Adams and Reese Law Firm, AT&T Wireless and the Lucky Day Foundation, said Rogers.

Phelps Dunbar will renovate all the sixth and part of the fifth floor with the help of local architectural firm, Cooke Douglas Farr Lemons, with construction scheduled to begin Feb. 1, 2003.

“The firm is a wonderful client, and we’re really going to create a facility that Jackson hasn’t seen before,” said Robert Farr, AIA, of the design that was created by himself, Ann Somers, AIA, Gillian Christie and Tim Geddie. Plans include state-of-the-art videoconferencing and teleconferencing space, as well as room for further expansion of the entire fifth floor to accommodate future growth, said Farr.

And the firm’s future is definitely entwined with the downtown area, with the signing of a 12-year lease of the 45,000-square-foot space. Lawrence characterized the more than $2-million deal as one of the largest real estate transactions to take place in the area in several years. “They’ve made a huge commitment to downtown,” said Lawrence.

And the downtown area’s future is dependent on more companies like Phelps Dunbar maintaining their presence in the city, said Farr. “It keeps a synergy in the downtown area — the coming and going of people is very important,” Farr noted.

“Downtown Jackson is in the process of a substantial revitalization — there are several projects that are either in process or scheduled for development in the next year,” said Bass. “Our move and lease mark a commitment to remain a vital part of the downtown Jackson community — this is where we want to be positioned for the future.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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