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Change comes by setting goals, working together

As I See It

This week we have a story about some folks who saw a need and took action to make a bad situation better. The Metrocenter Area Coalition, formed in 1998, is working to make the U.S. 80 corridor from Clinton to the Pearl River more presentable by ridding the area of urban blight.

A noble undertaking, for sure, but they’re only dealing with a small area and, considering the bigger picture of urban blight across our state, who cares whether Highway 80 is rescued or not? The importance lies not in the size of the undertaking but in the impact concerned citizens can have when they set a goal and work together.

As for the significance of the Highway 80 corridor, it’s very important to me. I was raised in what is now southwest Jackson, in the Forest Hill community. Highway 80 was Jackson’s southern boundary back in those days and to get into Jackson, we had to cross Highway 80 at some point.
My father worked for 25 years at the General Electric plant (now the Jackson Enterprise Center) on Highway 80 and we sometimes had family reunions at Battlefield Park across from the GE plant.

People didn’t eat out nearly as often when I was a child as they do now. Consequently, recollections of those rare times at the old Green Derby restaurant at Ellis Avenue and Highway 80 are fond memories indeed.

Eating out

Similarly, getting a chance to eat at Crechale’s Restaurant down Highway 80, near Lynch Street Extension, was a treat 40 years ago and it still is today. Though the Green Derby no longer exists, one cannot have a better meal in a better atmosphere than dining at Crechale’s while listening to old Hank Williams, Pete Fountain and Patsy Cline on the jukebox. Some things just can’t be improved.

The intersection of Highway 80 and Highway 51 (Terry Road) was a major crossroads before the Interstate system came along. Highway 80 stretches 2,726 miles east and west from Savannah, Ga., to San Diego, Calif., while Highway 51 runs north and south from Chicago to New Orleans. Crossing through that intersection was a big deal in my younger years. Men stood on the median and sold peanuts and newspapers to motorists waiting for the traffic light to change. Everyone knew that gangster Red Hydrick lived at the Alamo Plaza Motel, which was located on the southeast side of the intersection.

Making a difference

Well, so much for memories of years gone by. The importance of all this is that a few energized citizens can make a difference in their communities.

Nina Holbrook, former manager of MetroCenter Mall, heads the Coalition while long-time Highway 80 automobile dealer Al East of East Ford is one of the driving forces behind the group.

With the goal of converting their section of Highway 80 from its present state of neglect into a viable retail and commercial district with more sales tax generated and better property values, the Coalition has set about their task with enthusiasm. By cutting grass, planting shrubs and hanging neighborhood flags and pennants, the group has already made an impact on the appearance of the area.

Recently, Franklyn Tate, an official with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, joined the Coalition and immediately got to work. He has helped the group secure funding for additional landscape improvements and street lighting that will improve safety and the esthetics of the area.

Against the odds, I believe this group is going to rescue the old Highway 80 strip from further decadence and restore it to a state of desirability, thus proving that people can impact their circumstances when they have a common vision and a willingness to work toward their goals. I’ll be watching their progress over the coming years and enjoying their successes as they restore a part of my past back toward its former beauty.

Meanwhile, writing this column has made me hungry and I think I’ll head to Crechale’s for dinner.

Thought for the Moment

Courage is often lack of insight, whereas cowardice in many cases is based on good information.— Writer and actor Peter Ustinov (1921-2004)

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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