JACKSON — Entergy Mississippi was poised to abandon the Electric Building in downtown after 73 years when the powers-that-be decided to go another route. In January, the corporation sent requests for proposals to 19 developers to purchase and renovate the historic landmark. Only two firms bid for the project — Duckworth Realty and Mississippi Management — by the deadline.
“We selected the Duckworth team because they would redevelop the building and allow us to lease back space,” said Haley Fisackerly, vice president of customer operations for Entergy Mississippi. “We get to stay downtown. Jackson gets redevelopment and apartments in downtown Jackson. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
The Electric Building saga
In 1930, Entergy Mississippi, then known as Mississippi Power & Light, moved to the Lampton Building, located at the corner of West and Pearl streets in Jackson. In 1948, the company began leasing the entire facility, which became known as the Electric Building, then acquired and expanded it in 1968.
In the 1970s, the utility company housed 400 employees in the building. When Mississippi Power & Light merged with Entergy and many duplicated functions were consolidated, the number of Entergy employees dwindled to less than 100, mirroring what was happening in corporate America.
Earlier this month, Entergy announced plans to cut 1,000 jobs, primarily at its nuclear power plant division in Jackson, but the company said the reduction would not affect the 60 Entergy employees, including the executive staff and corporate communications who currently work in the Electric Building. Entergy’s accounts payable group is housed in the Echelon building north of Jackson.
“We knew the building badly needed refurbishing,” said Haley Fisackerly, a vice president for Entergy Mississippi. “With only 60 Entergy personnel, it would have been too costly for us to do it.”
Entergy was renting corporate space in Little Rock and New Orleans and decided if the company could find someone to buy and renovate the Jackson building, it would rent from the purchaser.
Richard McNeel, partner of Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel Architects, invited Ted Duckworth, president and managing broker for Duckworth Realty, to the table. McNeel had previously worked on several downtown projects, including the Electric Building, Clarion Ledger building, MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce building, Roe Frazer law offices located in the former J.C. Bradford building, and had partnered with another firm to renovate the Hinds County Courthouse.
“Ted and I have known each other for a long time, we’ve done deals together, and I knew Ted was one of the few developers who understood this type of project and could pull the deal together,” said McNeel. “There are other good developers obviously around, but it has to fit your business profile and this seemed to work for Ted.”
Duckworth said there was no reluctance on his part to bid on the project.
“It was just a matter of figuring out what to do with it,” he said, with a laugh. “When Richard and I first talked about the building, we thought it would be a good mixed-use building with residential housing possibilities. When Entergy committed to the project, that’s what made it financially viable.”
Fisackerly said the company was pleased to receive two strong proposals.
“Mississippi Management, Lee Paris’ group, showed some guts putting in a proposal, and it was very attractive as well,” he said. “It was a difficult decision for us to make. Ted already had other success stories in the downtown Jackson area and had put perhaps a little more thought on some important aspects.”
Giving the Lady a facelift
The external design of the circa 1927 building will be restored to its original state and the original pre-cast details will be added to the ground floor entrances to resemble the original design. JBHM will lead the structural overhaul, including plans to update the building by including amenities like wireless Internet service.
Duckworth and McNeel will spend the next several months drafting final plans for the 10-story, 115,000-square-foot building. Construction should begin next April and be completed by July 2005.
“Maintaining the seventh floor intact will be our greatest challenge,” said Duckworth. “We agreed to keep it fully operational because it has Entergy’s switch in it, and the IT runs through that location.
“We describe the seventh floor as a lifeboat. It has its own air conditioning system, is individually metered, and will run independent of the rest of building. Another big challenge will be replacing the windows, which we’ll be doing throughout the building.”
Duckworth, whose firm will manage the building, will also be working around current Entergy employees, housed on floors eight through 10.
“I don’t anticipate a problem because this is a project everyone is enthusiastic about,” he said.
Entergy Mississippi has agreed to sign a 15-year lease for office space on five floors. JBHM plans to lease one floor and move its office from The Quarter on Lakeland Drive. The remaining office space will be leased on a first-come basis, said Duckworth.
“We have one floor left between Entergy and JBHM that is practically spoken for,” he said. “We’ve talked to St. Andrews about space because they’ve expressed interest, and we’re waiting to hear if the Foundation for the Mid South and Enterprise Corporation of the Delta want to renew.”
Entergy gave the Foundation for the Mid South approximately $5 million in seed money and low-cost rent when it was established several years ago, said Fisackerly. “Some of their space is not being utilized and they’re looking at options,” he said. “We should know in the near future what they plan to do.”
McNeel said he wanted to move JBHM’s Jackson office downtown when the S.M. Thomas building came on the market about seven years ago. He and a local advertising agency considered buying it, but the price wasn’t right.
“We all wanted to be downtown in that location because it’s the heart of our community,” he said. “All our offices are in downtown locations except for Jackson. But timing is everything on any of these situations. When the Electric Building came up, it was a perfect opportunity.”
Even though he knows the ground floor space will lease for roughly $17 per square foot, Duckworth isn’t quite sure what it will house.
“The building originally had a drug store, florist and a barbershop on the ground floor, at least in 1954,” he said. “In the last couple of weeks, retailers and restaurateurs have approached me, and I’ve been brainstorming about it with other real estate brokers in town. I’d love to see a snack shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, something like Brent’s Drugs, and make it a real gathering place for the multi-block area, where folks can grab a pack of gum and a coke and run out the door.”
Duckworth envisions a “high-end businessman’s lunch-type restaurant,” similar to the original Times Change in Lefleurs Gallery in North Jackson.
“There’s no place in town where you can sit down and get a good, quick cheeseburger, and I’m not talking fast food,” he said. “But whatever we decide, we only have 6,000 square feet on the ground floor so it won’t be some massive place.”
The top two floors of the Electric Building will be transformed into luxury apartments, with amenities and services equivalent to those offered at upscale boutique hotels. A rooftop terrace will be added with views of St. Andrews Cathedral and the Governor’s Mansion.
have a half-dozen people on the list and we haven’t even contacted anyone yet,” said Duckworth. “Entergy has expressed interest in an apartment. Johnson Bailey Henderson McNeel, with five offices around the state and partners outside the city, has also expressed a need for one. Two or three law