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Firm focuses flair for branding on downtown revitalization project

With daring and flare, Rare Design has been infusing its clients with identity and branding since 1999. Now the firm is bringing that sense of style and verve to downtown Hattiesburg with the renovation of the old Smith Bakery.

Rare Design’s president and creative director, Rodney Richardson, is an enthusiastic disciple of urbanism. He purchased the 30,000-square-foot warehouse determined to restore the neglected building to a new and useful life.

“I’m committed to the revitalization of downtown and all the historic and traditional aspects you get in a downtown,” he says. “You can’t re-create that. We like an urban lifestyle where you can walk from shops to cafes and want to create that in downtown Hattiesburg.”

The building’s life began in 1927 as the Mattingly Bakery and in 1948 became the Smith Bakery, which a lot of local residents remember. After a story about the building’s renovation ran in the local newspaper, an elderly niece of the original owners sent Richardson an architectural rendering of the building from 1926, the year before it was built.

“That is so cool,” he says. “We’re calling it the Bakery Building. We want it to be a multi-use building.”

Rare Design is occupying the back corner of the large building. The space was gutted down to the brick walls and overhead beams. Those elements remain and offices are set apart with sliding glass doors to contrast the old with an industrial feel.

“We spent several months in demolition and clean-up mode,” Richardson says. “The building had not been taken care of in 20 years or after Katrina when it took a lot of roof damage.”

The project is now in the final stages for Rare Design’s space and is marketing the other space, which can be configured to suit tenants. There’s to be a large central event space and front space along busy Buschman Street that’s suitable for four to six boutique shops. Richardson had a traffic count done for that street and found that 9,000 cars a day pass by.

“That’s a beautiful space and now’s the time to customize it,” he says. “We have flexibility at this point.”

Ten thousand square feet will be used for the event space that he describes as an area with lots of light pouring in and a barn-like mezzanine all around. As much material as possible is being salvaged to use in this area.

“It’s still difficult in Mississippi to build green space, but we’re trying to do as much as we can,” Richardson says. “The center point of our office is a plant wall, something I saw in France.”

The 10-foot-by-14-foot plant wall is a vertical garden, not a wall with climbing plants growing on it. This creative designer inquired until he found someone in Hattiesburg (landscape designer Jordan Hicks) to do it. The unusual bit of greenery is the favorite sitting place for employees and visitors.

“Unexpected encounters with nature in an urban environment are an important part of the mix,” Richardson says. “We’re looking at why people are drawn to downtowns. It’s aesthetic things that you can’t manufacture. I have a love for this city and I’m committed to seeing growth in the downtown area.”

Another plus for the Bakery Building is the tons of parking space across the street at the train depot.

Richardson says the same creative thinking Rare Design uses to inspire people to embrace a brand is being used to get them to embrace an urban lifestyle.

When it comes to design and branding, the full-fledged advertising agency does it all — graphic design, ads for all mediums, Web sites, interactive, displays, marketing and so on. But it specializes in helping clients build brands.

“Branding is such an overworked term,” Richardson says. “Branding is not just about creating a logo. It’s really about your personality whether it’s a person or a business. You want people to be completely immersed in your brand. The experience should build on itself.”

Identity is important, but so many other elements come into play. “We’ve done everything to help people tell who they are and that includes space and apparel design,” he says. “We specialize in finding the most unique way to communicate who a client is.”

Richardson, a McComb native, honed his branding and design skills while working for Nike in Seattle where he was senior designer/global designer leader for Nike team sports basketball category.

“I studied the art of brand management and learned to appreciate the difference between an identity and a logo,” he says.

In Hattiesburg he leads an in-house team of six and a tight-knit group of Austin, Tex., consultants to bring that Nike philosophy to a wide range of clients, including the City of Hattiesburg, Jones County Junior College, Lamar Advertising, Beaumont, Tex., Convention & Visitors Bureau, Forrest General Hospital, Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the University of Southern Mississippi, the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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