The mystique surrounding the Mississippi Delta blues is attracting West Coast investors, who have burrowed into downtown Clarksdale. Delta State University is prompting Cleveland’s sprawl, Viking Range Corporation is spurring Greenwood’s growth, and Wal-Mart has invested heavily in many rural towns, including Indianola and Greenville.
“A lifestyle here is so different from these other places,” said Joe Middleton, a Realtor for Middleton Realty and Appraisal in Clarksdale, who recently sold the business to his son. “One person told me recently that they spent two hours in a traffic jam. If you had to wait for two stoplights here, you’d be in a road rage. It’s just so different. Of course, our real estate prices here are very good compared to other places. You can buy a block for what one building would cost you somewhere else. Many people looking at the Delta are retired or nearing retirement age. They can sell their home in California and buy one of the nicest houses in the Delta.”
Being the crossroads of the blues has long been advantageous to Clarksdale. But recently, the publicity derived from Morgan Freeman’s downtown businesses, Madidi and Ground Zero, co-owned by Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett, has attracted international interest. Galleries, bakeries and other venues have been popping up, and in late January, Middleton culled calls from investors looking to open businesses ranging from a beauty shop and vacuum cleaner repair shop to a recording studio.
“A factory coming into Clarksdale could pick up and move, but the blues are here and nobody can take that away,” said Middleton. “It’s something the Delta as a region needs to build on.”
Along U.S. 61, Super Wal-Mart, Captain D’s, Aaron Rents and People’s Department Store keep traffic humming, and nearby land for sale is ripe for development. A seven- or eight-acre tract was recently acquired, presumably for a new shopping center.
“Out on the highway, prices have been up for a while and are still holding at around $25,000 an acre,” said Middleton. “Downtown prices are increasing.”
New residential areas are being developed near the Clarksdale Country Club, said Kay Watts, owner/broker of Kay K. Watts Real Estate Inc. in Clarksdale.
“It’s exciting to see all the new development because at one point, there wasn’t a lot of hope, but Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett have done so much for Clarksdale,” she said. “They’ve brought a lot of people here that got interested in Clarksdale because of them.”
“Cleveland has had an absolute explosion of commercial real estate activity,” said Leland Speakes Jr., owner/broker of Leland Speakes Real Estate Inc. in Cleveland. “We’ve got the third-largest Super Wal-Mart in the country that just opened. The opening day of Captain D’s made history with its income. Two more motels are being built to go along with the Holiday Inn Express that was completed a couple of years ago. The John Deere people are building a place. And Walgreen’s just bulldozed some old buildings to make way for a new store. It’s just unbelievable.”
The growth is represented in all sections of Cleveland and is not just limited to U.S. 8 and 61, said Speakes.
“Without a doubt, Cleveland is a jewel of the Delta,” he said. “It overshadows Greenwood, Clarksdale and Greenville. Delta State University is one of the big reasons we’re enjoying it. Our downtown area is great. There’s not a vacant building left.”
The heart of Greenville’s commercial activity is gravitating toward the southern part of U.S. 1, said Malcolm Kretschmar, owner/broker of Kretschmar Realty Inc., in Greenville.
“It’s been moving that way for a long time and now there are some new issues at hand that will propel it more so, with the Highway 82 bypass exit at Highway 1 South,” he said. “Last year, Delta Regional Medical Center bought 182 acres in that sector for their south campus. All the new commercial activity — retailing and restaurants — are primarily happening in that area.”
Office Depot, Lowe’s and a Wal-Mart Supercenter have a presence in Greenville, but with J.C. Penney’s, McRae’s and Goody’s clothing stores having a foothold in the river city, another department store isn’t likely to move in, said Kretschmar.
“In May, a very nice six-screen cinema with stadium seating and state-of-the-art electronics opened in Greenville, which promptly caused Regal to close their four-screen theatre, but it was a 1960s type of theater situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Greenville Realtors are wrestling with challenges of older buildings that need resurrecting, said Kretschmar.
“We sold an industrial building through an auction and sold the other, a packaging plant, to a warehouse,” he said. “Now we’re waiting for the next industrial prospect. A 15-acre campus with a 114,000-square-foot building just came back on the market. However, we still play with that 300,000-trade area for Greenville and soon after Hudson’s opened on a four-month trial, I saw car tags from 15 counties in the parking lot. It kicks along pretty well as a commercial hub.”
The greatest obstacle for revitalizing Greenville’s downtown hub is because of the location of the Greenville Bridge, which is eight miles or so south of downtown. “You have to have a reason to be going downtown,” explained Kretschmar.
“We’ve lost a percentage of the retail market that we’re not likely to regain. However, Main Street has been redone and Washington Avenue is next. A group from Memphis working with John Elkington, who helped rebirth Beale Street, has a Delta theme multi-purpose proposal in the works, but it’s linked with street improvements on Washington Avenue. If Delta Blues Casino’s convention center and water park in their hotel works out, it would be a positive piece to put into downtown’s future.”
A Wal-Mart Supercenter is under construction. There’s talk about Lowe’s or Home Depot moving in. And downtown Greenwood is a vibrant, bustling place.
“Ten years ago, you could buy anything on the street for nothing, but now you can’t find anything,” said Tish Goodman, owner/broker of Bowie Realty in Greenwood. “Viking or people related to Viking purchased a lot of downtown property, and there’s nothing left for purchase unless it’s just really old.”
The renovation of storefronts on Howard Street are almost finished, and a building was recently torn down next door to The Alluvian to make room for a hotel parking lot. “There’s talk that the Elk Club is being purchased for renovation, but that hasn’t come to the surface yet,” she said. “Viking just announced that they were going to have apartments downtown, above some of the storefronts available for rent.”
There’s no set price on real estate in Greenwood, said Goodman. “It’s been all over the place,” she said. “Two or three years ago, you could say everything’s going to sell for ‘x’ amount per square foot, but you can’t say that now about any of the commercial property.”
Goodman, who also serves as vice president of the local chamber of commerce, said an influx of prospects are looking around, but mainly for industrial use. “We’re up and coming,” she said. “We’re going to be the little Delta town that made it.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.