For readers concerned that Ben Allen has perhaps “lost a step,” think again. He may have recently stepped down as president of the Jackson City Council due to health issues, but he is adamant that he was never stressed out, feels well and is excited about his new role as president of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP).
A noticeably thinner-looking Allen remains energetic, answering questions with rapid-fire responses, all the while smiling. His excitement about leading the DJP is obvious.
“When I was on the Council, I enjoyed economic development work the best,” Allen says. “That was fun. Now, I’ll be doing that all the time here at the Downtown Jackson Partners.”
Last June, Allen dropped a bombshell — he was resigning as president of the Jackson City Council citing health concerns. His resignation became effective June 22.
Everyone speculated that the job had just become too much for Allen, who had served on the Council for 10 years. However, Allen says that never was the case. He says it was not stress. but rather a way of life that was detrimental to his well-being.
Allen says, “I simply was not taking care of myself. I was getting to the office early, leaving late, throwing something in the microwave to eat. I used to run, but wasn’t doing that any more. In short, I needed to change my lifestyle, and I knew, unless I took some time off, I wouldn’t do that. I just needed time to get my life together.”
While it was reported that Allen suffered from heart problems, he says that was only half true. The real culprit was off-the-chart high blood pressure, which, in turn, affected his heart. Allen says he knew for years that his blood pressure was a problem, but due to his lifestyle, was uneven in his taking of medication, exercise and dieting.
Fortunately, the time off worked. While tests confirmed that his heart was overworked due to the blood pressure problem, the heart itself was fine. Allen says he has lost nearly 30 pounds, feels fit and is ready to lead the DJP.
His move to the DJP began with an e-mail. On September 22, Allen sent an e-mail to “some close friends and associates” announcing that he was to have a last round of tests September 25. He explained that all other tests had come back with good news, and he expected the September 25 tests to be the same. If that happened, he would be looking for a new career. Allen says he simply wanted any prospective employer to know his health was no longer a worry.
In the end, it was a non-issue. Allen says responses — and offers — poured in. One of them told him that John Lawrence, president of the DJP, had tendered his resignation to return to his hometown of Memphis. His last day would be October 31.
With his love for economic development and the City of Jackson, it was not a tough sell. Allen’s first day on the job as DJP president is November 1.
It has been an interesting journey for Allen. A native of Vicksburg, he went on to Mississippi State University where he earned degrees in marketing and political science.
After graduation, Allen owned and operated a school supply business, which was successful. But it meant long hours away from home, and with a growing family, he sold a majority of the business in 1994.
He did retain operations of the business based in Jackson, and with some extra time on his hands, began looking around for something else to do. An acquaintance eventually suggested he run for the Jackson City Council. He thought about it, talked it over with his wife, and decided he would do it.
Allen says he came on the Council for “a lot of wrong reasons.” He says he wanted to be “a good Republican,” work on the city’s budget and pursue other conservative efforts. Along the way, however, Allen says he changed. He was greatly affected by the city and the people in it trying to work toward a brighter tomorrow.
“They became like family,” he says. “I got my passion for Jackson while serving on the City Council.”
Allen’s contacts and relationships were certainly a factor in his selection as DJP president. He has long worked with city, county and state officials, including Gov. Haley Barbour, who Allen first met when Barbour asked him to help with Ronald Reagan’s campaign for President in the 1970s.
Andrew Mattiace, DJP chairman, says, “We feel very confident in his knowledge and enthusiasm for our Capital City, and believe he is the person to assume leadership of our organization. Additionally, his ability to work well with (Jackson) Mayor Frank Melton, the Jackson City Council, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, our state Legislature and Gov. Barbour are proven and immeasurable.”
Allen says he is anxious to get the word out about all of the positives of downtown Jackson. But he wants to offer more than “rah-rah.”
“I don’t just want to be cheerleader,” he says. “I want to back it up. I want to say downtown Jackson is great, and here’s why.”
Allen admits that this will take more than enthusiasm. While he worked on economic development projects as a councilman and has a working knowledge of such efforts, he has a lot to learn. However, he says he also had a lot to learn when he came on the Council, and says he will do his homework.
The DJP was formed in 1996 with the mission of keeping the district “clean, safe and bustling.” Allen says downtown Jackson today is all three, and sees an even brighter future.
“I see my job here as putting a bow on all of this activity,” says Allen, citing such projects as the renovation of the King Edward Hotel, the Old Capital Green mixed-use development and the Capital City Convention Center. “I want to serve as a dartboard for those who have questions about downtown Jackson and sell its successes. And I am really looking forward to it.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.