Within a few short years, folks who have been away from the Ross Barnett Reservoir for a while probably won’t recognize it, especially on the Madison County side.
Though progress seems sluggish, work is moving swiftly behind the scenes to facilitate the development of two totally different luxury communities — the Town of Lost Rabbit and Harbor Walk — and transform Main Harbor Marina into Mississippi’s newest hot spot.
“Right now, a brand new beautiful marina that creates excitement among boaters is the focal point of the Harbor Walk development,” said developer John Burwell of Jackson. “As we build out Harbor Walk, the marina will become less and less the grand part of it.”
This month, 16 builders will draw for lots in Phase 1-A of the Town of Lost Rabbit, a 260-acre heavily wooded tract of land in Madison County buffered between the historic Natchez Trace and the 33,000-acre reservoir. In September, the general public will choose from the remaining lots.
“Based on inquiries, we anticipate builders will take 60 lots and the general public will take 55,” said Richard Ridgway, one of four partners in Neopolis Development, LLC, of Jackson, developers of Lost Rabbit. “The groundswell of demand from people who want to get into this type of community is almost overwhelming. However, our objective is not to sell all the lots quickly, but to build a community.”
The Town of Lost Rabbit is the first Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) & Company-designed traditional neighborhood development (TND) in Mississippi. TND is part of the new urbanism movement that represents a resurgence of neighborhood-based design. Since architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk founded DPZ in 1980 and established the TND movement, they have completed designs for more than 250 new towns and community revitalization projects around the world, including Seaside, Fla., which TIME magazine named one of the 10 “Best of the Decade” achievements in the field of design.
Last year, area residents and construction industry professionals participated in a charrette, a unique time-limited design event, to create a master plan for the Town of Lost Rabbit. The community will feature three neighborhoods with more than 500 residences, from townhouses near Town Center to waterfront estate homes on one-acre lots, with site elevation differences up to 50 feet.
Lot prices will range from $27,500 to more than $200,000, with average lots priced around $50,000. When completed, the community, which will also feature class A office space, an inn, marina, tennis club with pool and fitness facilities, elementary school and child care center, all centered on Town Center, should house approximately 2,100 residents.
Last month, five of the nation’s top architects attended another charrette to put the finishing touches on Lost Rabbit’s pattern book, which includes five styles of homes for the development.
“We’ve had good dialogue with elected officials, making sure they understand we’re creating an asset and not a liability for this location,” said Ridgway. “We continue tweaking the plan to allay fears because, after having been in the business for 30 years, I’ve learned that when you do something new, whether it’s a new grocery store in a neighborhood or a new type of neighborhood, people are fearful of change. If they haven’t tasted it or seen it, they may not understand it.”
For example, because residents voiced concern about building a small apartment community in the Town of Lost Rabbit, accessible via Hoy Road and Old Canton Road-North, Neopolis asked the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District to amend the lease to delete multifamily housing from the proposed land design.
“There’s a predisposition that apartments foster crime,” said Ridgway. “We disagree, especially if they’re done well. But we decided to make adjustments. We want to be great neighbors.”
Last month, Greenwood-based Viking Range Corporation announced a partnership with Neopolis to designate Lost Rabbit the first-ever Viking Signature Kitchen Community in Mississippi, signaling a move by the company to focus on the promising residential market. Viking Range CEO Fred Carl was a homebuilder before he established the company “so teaming up with us was a natural fit,” Ridgway pointed out.
“We’re extremely pleased and proud to be a partner in such a prestigious undertaking as the Lost Rabbit development,” said Viking spokesperson Dale Persons. “The demographics, as well as the whole luxury concept of this development, fit perfectly with the high-end customer that Viking serves throughout the U.S. and worldwide.”
Mark Frascogna, managing member of Neopolis, said working with Viking “is consistent with our goal of making Lost Rabbit the premier community development in the Southeast.”
Phase II of Lost Rabbit, expected to break ground next year, will include a marina, tennis and yacht clubs and 100 boat slips and more residences, including luxury condominiums ranging from 1,800 to 3,200 square feet.
“Retailers and restaurants have already approached us to relocate to Town Center,” said Ridgway. “It’s a good buzz.”
Neopolis has a five-year option on an adjacent 170 acres for Found Rabbit, a development that would connect to Lost Rabbit via a foot/cart bridge and would include an 18-hole PGA-grade golf course, conference center and hotel.
Having the Harbor Walk development located nearby “will definitely help, not hinder,” said Ridgway.
“Lost Rabbit and Harbor Walk are different choices for reservoir-oriented buyers,” he said. “We’re talking about connecting the two developments with reservoir-wide water taxis, which would be very helpful to homeowners on the Rankin and Madison sides.”
Harbor Walk moving ahead
Burwell and project manager John Hannigan of Bethesda, Md., are moving forward on construction on Harbor Walk, a proposed multi-million dollar mixed-use development, which will include more than 100 high-rise condominiums, a hotel, offices, shops and restaurants around a new marina.
“Right now, we’re painting some buildings, picking up trash and mowing the grass, basically cleaning up the area while we wait for approval to re-do the riprap with a straight-edge bulkhead,” said Burwell. “We’ll hopefully get the go-ahead soon.”
As part of the agreement, The Dock, a popular nightclub owned by the Deweese family, will close August 29. An auction will be held next month, and the building will be torn down after December 1. The Deweeses have three leases on the reservoir — the original Main Harbor lease, North Harbor lease and the Boat Works dealership, which closed last year.
“Soon, we’ll move boats off the west face — the Harbor Drive side — to the south side near The Breakers and the soccer fields while we build brand new piers,” he said. “All of the older piers will be replaced with brand new floating concrete decks.”
Burwell plans to boost the number of boat slips from 500 to 800 and relocate and expand the marina’s small, difficult-to-access fuel dock to a site near the entrance of the harbor.
Construction on Harbor Walk’s first phase, valued at $175 million, should begin in March and include a new marina and hotel to be built on the site of The Dock. The first phase will also include 456,000 square feet of new construction by White Construction Company, with 264,000 square feet devoted to condominiums, 75,000 square feet to office space, 65,000 square feet representing at least four restaurants and 52,000 square feet of retail space. Approximately 1,260 parking spaces will be added in the two-year project.
“The buildings will have seven stories, with retail on the levee level,” said Burwell. “Every building will have parking underneath, and every office, condo and hotel room should have a really nice water view.”
The biggest buzz centers on Valencia Hotel Group’s recent commitment to build a four-star, nine-story, 200-room luxury boutique hotel featuring meeting space and an open-air plaza connecting the hotel to the waterfront.
Phase II calls for another 200,000 square feet of condominiums, 106,000 square feet of retail space, 56,000 square feet devoted to restaurants and 20,000 square feet of office space. Amenities include a specialty grocery store, bakery, laundry and other guest services. Approximately 1,600 parking spaces will be added.
Phase III includes 108,000 square feet of condominiums, 36,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of office space and 16,000 square feet for restaurants, with an additional 365 parking spaces. Phase IV will feature 234,000 square feet of office space, 37,000 square feet for food service and 34,000 square feet of retail space, with another 894 parking spaces.
Traffic flow concerns
Community leaders have expressed concern about already heavy traffic increasing on access roads to the reservoir as the developments grow. Burwell is lobbying for Harbor Drive to be relocated to the east side of Culley-Brashear Drainage Channel as a four-lane boulevard to accommodate increased traffic demands.
“This part of metro Jackson needs infrastructure improvements badly,” said Pearl River Valley Water Supply District executive director Ken Griffin, Ph.D. (The Mississippi Development Authority has provided some funding for reservoir-area transportation needs.) “Before Spillway Road was widened to four lanes, all we had were two-lane roads. Rice Road and Harbor Drive are still two-lanes. It’s very difficult for this whole area to get east and west, and to the interstate. Regardless, it needs to be done.”
Even though the City of Ridgeland recently bumped the $21.5-million Lake Harbour Drive Extension to a top priority transportation project, progress is slow. The proposed 2.65-mile flyover would minimize traffic congestion by providing residents with an alternate route between the reservoir and Highland Colony Parkway and open up areas on both sides for retail development.
“We’re in the process of asking Congress for additional funding for design expenses and right-of-way acquisition,” said Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee. “We hope to get this thing moving. Obviously, it would be a tremendous connection from Highland Colony Parkway to Rankin County, and should increase land values in the area when it comes through.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.