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Michel leaves downtown for bustling suburbia

Jackson — After calling downtown Jackson home for decades, the J. Walter Michel Agency Inc. has moved to bustling Lakeland Drive/Mississippi 25.
vWalter Michel III, the third-generation owner of the commercial real estate and property management firm, said the relocation was not the end of an era, but the start of a new one.

“We relocated because the suburban Jackson market is so strong,” Michel said. “Ridgeland, Madison, Lakeland Drive — these are the hot areas. We found that we were driving into downtown Jackson to the office, checking our phone messages, then driving back out from where we had just come from to show properties. It just made sense to move.”

Michel admitted that it was somewhat emotional leaving downtown after all these decades, and as a state senator, the former office in the Millsaps Building offered him convenience for his “other job.” However, parking hassles and crime problems offset these factors, and coupled with the growing suburban market, Michel is not looking back.

‘Time for a change’

“My future plans are for us to keep doing what we’ve been doing, but our focus will be away from downtown” he said. “I’ve enjoyed being downtown, but it was time for a change.”

The J. Walter Michel Agency’s new headquarters is located on Lakeland Drive near the intersection of Ridgewood Road. The complex was formerly the home of an ear, nose and throat practice, which was bought by HealthSouth and relocated to a company-owned facility. Not aggressively marketed, the building, encompassing 10,000 square feet, had stood vacant for approximately five years when Michel purchased it.

“I got a good deal on it,” he said with a grin.
Michel had the complex totally gutted — literally, for the lack of studs allowed for the removal of all interior walls.

This permitted him to set the new office up as he liked, including all-new Internet/telecommunications cabling. Three other office units are currently under renovation, and Michel said the agency would use its office as a working model of how the other units will look and function as it attempts to lease them.

Taking it with you

Yet, Michel has left space for a piece of the firm’s downtown heritage.

“I found all these old pictures of downtown Jackson during the move,” he said. “The photographs range from the 1920s to the 1960s, and I’m setting up a gallery at the office to display them. I guess we took a little of downtown with us to Lakeland Drive.”

The firm has definitely grown in pace with the Capital City. J. Walter Michel Sr. founded the agency in 1927 in the Lampton Building (now the Electric Building) on Pearl Street in downtown Jackson. When the Standard Life Building was built in 1929, the firm expanded its management and included leasing brokerage to its real estate services.
After serving in World War II, J. Walter Michel II joined his father in the business.

This perfect-timing scenario played out again a generation later with Michel III. The founder’s grandson made a little history when he became the first real estate major ever at the University of Mississippi. (His brother, Henry, also earned a real estate degree from Ole Miss.) Just one week after earning his diploma in 1983, Michel III was plying his trade in the family business.

The company had been a resident of the Millsaps Building, now pushing 100 years old, which was entrusted to the Michel’s management in 1986 after undergoing renovations.

Today, the J. Walter Michel Agency is one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the state. Its business is divided equally between commercial real estate sales, leasing and property management, giving the agency a good diversity to offset swings in the interest rate and other factors that control the commercial real estate industry. Its management portfolio consists of office buildings, shopping centers and warehouses, with clients varying from out-of-town property owners to insurance companies to trade associations.

“We’re fortunate to have a family business that we enjoy, because so few businesses make it to three generations,” Michel said. “I don’t dread Mondays — I enjoy coming to work every day. It’s always something new, different. Today, we might be dealing with timber. Tomorrow, it might be office space or a warehouse. It’s a fun business.”

Michel said there was still room for growth at the J. Walter Agency. The company is well established in the dynamic markets of Ridgeland, Madison, Lakeland Drive and other outlying areas. But the Rankin County communities of Pearl and Brandon are also hot spots, and Michel said the firm would look to grow its presence there, as well.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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