When John Lawrence came to Mississippi to head up Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP) earlier this decade, the organization was in the midst of a change in course. Focused more in the past on office/commercial development, Lawrence came on board to spur residential growth in the heart of the city.
Lawrence will be leaving DJP at the end of October, returning to his hometown of Memphis where he will continue to work in urban development. It was a bitter-sweet decision for the 36 year old. He is excited about returning home to friends and family, but he will miss the relationships he has forged in Jackson. Moreover, he feels a firm foundation has been laid in the Capital City for future residential development, and he would love to stick around and watch the area come into its own.
“I believe Jackson is just scratching the surface of its potential as an urban, pedestrian environment,” Lawrence says. “The area has seen a number of positive developments over the last five years. But I think over the next five years, even greater things will happen here.”v
When Lawrence was growing up in Memphis, he never thought he would wind up in Jackson. In fact, for a while it looked as if he would never leave his hometown.
Lawrence attended the University of Memphis, earning a bachelor’s degree in urban planning. He would eventually return to the university to earn his MBA.
Upon earning his undergraduate degree, Lawrence was afforded the opportunity to see both sides of the development process. He first worked for a city planning organization, where he focused on development that was good for the community. He later did market analysis for a development company, where the concentration was on profits. Both of these experiences would come into play in his next career move.
In 2001, Lawrence got a call from a headhunter, who had one question.
“They asked, “Have you ever thought about Jackson, Miss.?’” he remembers. “I told them no, but I would be willing to think about anything.”
Looking into it, Lawrence liked what he saw, and that year relocated to the Capital City as president of DJP (online at www.downtown-jackson.com).
His arrival marked a departure in focus for DJP. In 1996, a group of corporate leaders, elected officials and concerned citizens banded together with area property owners to create Mississippi’s first business improvement district. The Downtown Jackson Business Improvement District committed itself to changing both the aesthetic and economic environment in the existing, urbanized community. Managed by DJP, the district embraced the mission of becoming clean, safe and bustling.
“The district has always been a ‘business park,’” Lawrence says. “It has always been a place where people drive into work, sit in their cubicle, then drive home.”
What the DJP wanted to do was bring in more residential development, making downtown Jackson a place to not just work, but live, as well. And the district is now doing just that as the area sees a constant stream of new and proposed residential space.
Lawrence points to many projects as downtown-living successes. Other projects, such as the rehabilitation of the King Edward Hotel and Standard Life Building and Old Capitol Green, are more mixed-use projects that will grow the area’s residential offerings in the near future.
Lawrence does not take credit for all of these positive happenings, nor does he say DJP has been the only driving force behind the changes. He says he sees himself and his organization as a facilitator, working to bring together the private and public sectors on projects that require everyone’s participation. However, he does emphasize that role has been an important one, even essential.
“The success point is getting the right people sitting across from the right people and working out problems and issues — move forward and get something going,” he says.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.