Madison — The City of Madison is a hot spot and has been for 25 years. How hot is it? In the 1980s, Madison experienced 233% growth and matched it in the 1990s with the emphasis on residential real estate. Now retail growth is following.
“We approached our growth differently,” said Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler. “We decided to treat housing and people as our industry. We felt that once the rooftops were there, business would come.”
Butler, mayor since 1981 and a former city councilwoman, said it’s exciting to see the fruition of those dreams. The city recently lowered property taxes by one mill and shifted the tax base to sales tax, reflecting their tremendous retail growth. “That was our plan and it’s happened,” she said. “We can’t get a city map done before it’s outdated.”
With distinct guidelines in place, Madison didn’t focus on industry and labor. “We wanted to be known as a hometown community, and we’ve achieved that,” she added. “It’s coming together now, but it’s been a battle to keep the small town flavor.”
Noting that some people don’t share the same development ideas, Butler said Madison doesn’t want any growth that doesn’t fit the plan. “It’s been worth it. All you have to do is look at Madison,” she said. “We’re experiencing retail and service sector growth at a fast pace now. The west side of Interstate 55 is taking off.”
The city’s first hotel, a Hilton Garden, is now under construction along with numerous banks, retail stores and restaurants. Big box stores — Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart — have also come to Madison but not exactly as they appear in other locations. Butler cites these along with Chick-Fil-A, Backyard Burger and Bone Fish Grill as examples of businesses willing to work within the city’s guidelines that specify land use, comprehensive zoning and design criteria and restrict signs to no more than six feet.
“We did not want to be a sea of metal buildings and do not want cookie-cutter stores,” she said. “We have had some resistance, but not like in the beginning. The businesses here are thriving and are healthy.”
The mayor also recalls that Kroger came to Madison when the small city’s numbers were borderline for necessary support. They have stayed, however, and have done well.
In the future she would like Madison to pioneer new types of businesses that are in other parts of the country but not in Mississippi. One example is the successful Bone Fish Grill that is the first in the state. She hopes to attract more family restaurants and an upscale shopping center on the order of Jackson’s Highland Village.
The city recently purchased the old Madison Station School site at U.S. 51 and Main Street to develop as a town square. Requests are being sent out for plan and design proposals. Butler said the town did not have a defined downtown.
“This will be the heartbeat of town and will be different from the typical town square,” she said. “Hopefully, we will set a pattern and be a destination people will want to see.”
She says the town square will have an old-world design with Swedish architecture honoring Madison’s sister city, Solleftea, Sweden. Madison recently received an invitation to become a regional office covering five states for Sweden’s Chamber of Commerce.
Renee Rice, president of Madison County operations for Merchants and Farmers Bank, said the venerable bank is expanding to the booming Highland Colony Parkway area to have a presence there.
“We have enjoyed tremendous growth along with the city and hoping to continue to get our piece of the pie even though we have a lot of competition now,” she said. “It’s really fun to be a part of this growth.”
Rice says she tries to get out of the bank and ride around every so often to keep up with the growth. “It’s amazing what can pop up. There are new schools, strip shopping centers, gas stations, convenience stores, streets and subdivisions.”
Susan Crandall, city manager for 16 years, has watched as medical and dental offices along with retail development has followed the city’s early residential growth.
“It was a natural progression that retail and the service sector would follow the population,” she said. “You have to have a strong residential base. The 2000 Census population count was 14,692, but we all know it’s much more than that now.”
As a certified retirement community, Butler says Madison has a wonderful blend of people of all ages. She touts 2000 Census results that list the city as number one in the state for highest per capita income, highest education level, home value and lowest crime rate.
“Madison ranked number one in all categories of growth and quality of life,” she said. “We created a place families would want to live and we knew other things would come after that.”
The city has a nationally-certified police department with 2.5 officers for every 1,000 people. It also has 30 full-time firemen plus an army of volunteer firemen.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.