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Coalition cleaning house to attract new faces

Metrocenter-area businesses stay optimistic despite departure

Jackson – The U.S. 80 corridor around Metrocenter, the state’s largest enclosed shopping mall, is bustling with traffic and a positive business outlook, area business owners say. The recent announcement that Dillard’s Department Store, one of three mall anchor stores, is leaving has not caused concern.

“I don’t know anybody out here who’s ringing their hands over Dillard’s leaving,” said Al East, owner of East Ford on Highway 80 since 1962. “From what I’m hearing, they have stores interested in that property and in the old Gayfer’s store.”

Mall general manager Cornell Holmes is upbeat about the shopping facility but said negotiations to fill spaces are not far enough along to announce. “The bigger the deal, the longer it takes to finalize,” he said. “We’re working with a number of people to bring an entertainment venue, a department store or big box tenants.”

Holmes, who came to Metrocenter last January, said Dillard’s has given no legal notification that they’re leaving and that mall management is trying to work things out for them to stay and remain a viable part of the mall. He said the mall is 80% filled, which is slightly below the national average of 85% for shopping malls, but is not cause for concern.

Roy Tapp has owned Metro Liquor & Wine on Robinson Road for 20 years and prior to that owned a convenience store and gas station at the same location. He watched as Metrocenter was built.

“This is a very good location. I believe in this area and that it’s good for business,” he said. “Now is the prime time for businesses to locate here. Prices are not inflated and are very reasonable. In my opinion, there’s no location better in the city.”

Philip Holman, a commercial realtor with the Mattiace Company, agrees and says property values in the area are holding up well. His company is still securing tenants and has few vacancies. He points out that traffic counts and access are tremendous with the convergence of Highways 18 and 80 and Interstates 20 and 220.

“We don’t lack traffic at all,” Al East concurred. “The traffic count on Highway 80 is 35,000 to 40,000 daily and 60,000 to 75,000 on Highway 18.”

Tapp feels the safest place in the city is the Metrocenter area and says if the day comes that he doesn’t feel safe there, he will close his business and leave.

“Perception is our worst enemy and the perception has deflated prices, but it’s not correct,” he said. “We don’t know how to market this area.”

The Metrocenter Area Coalition, made up of businesses along Highway 80, was formed five years ago to improve and market the area. East, coalition president, said forming the organization was money well spent. At first, the coalition was just the Metrocenter and East Ford area before extending membership to everyone along the corridor all the way to Galatin Street.

“We realized that the other end of Highway 80, down around the Terry Road intersection, was affecting our business,” he said. “Membership now goes from the Clinton city limits to the river.”

The group is installing streetlights along the corridor that he says really look good and make the area more presentable. East says the coalition is not just cleaning up trash and planting flowers, but has a plan to develop the area with new businesses for the city. He believes there are some real estate values that are down temporarily and that the area has some real bargains.

“Through the years, crime ran businesses out on Highway 80,” he said, “but now the drug users and prostitutes have got to go. And the condemned buildings have got to go.”

Roy Tapp says he feels nothing but positive about the area and thinks businesses need to get the word out.

East said, “If we hadn’t formed the coalition, I’d be real concerned about the closing of Dillard’s but we are coming together to make this area better and in five years you won’t recognize the Highway 80 area.”

He is complimentary of the good board of directors they have and says the group used the Downtown Coalition as an example. “They taxed themselves and we will look at doing something similar,” he said. “We have member dues but that’s not enough to cover the total budget. We will improve the value of all real estate in the area and create a hell of a traffic volume.”

The Metrocenter, which opened in 1978, has a great location, accessibility and population density, mall manager Holmes says. There are 249,000 people in a 10-mile radius and 406,000 in the trade area. Foot traffic inside the mall is 14 million per year.

“We have consumers near by who are driven to spend with middle market retailers like Dress for Success and Burlington Coat Factory,” he said. “They are particularly well suited for this market.”

He said there is one vacant space in the retail ring around the mall that mall management is considering buying and reselling or doing a ground lease. Recent additions inside the mall within the last three months include Hibbetts Sporting Goods, Style Center, Sunglass Shop, The Big Easy and King of Wings.

“We have tenants not doing as well as others but that’s normal,” Holmes said. “South Jackson is bursting with activity. There’s a significant amount of population that is totally underserved by retail.”

He says the area that includes fast-growing Clinton and Byram, has a population density that can support more retail.
Holmes said although he’s had no official word from Dillard’s, he’s heard the chain is closing stores that, for whatever reason, are under performing.
Calls to Dillard’s were not returned by press time.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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