The Jackson Association of Realtors held a continuing education, “Smart Growth” seminar last week at the TelCom Center, and Downtown Jackson Partners head Ben Allen had a simple message for the 350 people in attendance.
“We have to get it,” Allen said. “Not many people get it.”
The “it” Allen referred to was the acceptance that most young professionals do not want to live in the suburbs. They want to live in an urban environment. Allen pointed to cities like Little Rock, Nashville and Birmingham that have developed their downtowns with apartments and condos, and are thriving. Jackson, Allen said, can easily do the same thing.
“But we’re 20 years behind,” he said.
Projects Allen and developers will bring Jackson up to speed include:
• The renovation of Standard Life building
• The renovation of the King Edward Hotel
• The Whitney Place project in Fondren
• The Farish Street Entertainment District
• The Old Capitol Green development
All of those undertakings have plans that include mixed-use areas, with restaurants and shops on the bottom floors and apartments and condos on the upper floors.
“We have to embrace what we have,” Allen said.
One group that is embracing the $1.5 billion worth of construction underway in downtown Jackson is the Jackson Progressives, an organization of young professionals that advocates for a diverse, vibrant living community in downtown.
Matt Allen, Ben Allen’s son, is a member of Jackson Progressives (JP) and lives in an apartment in the Plaza Building, a development of Peters Real Estate.
Allen said the suburbs have thrived off the perception that downtown Jackson is a crime-ridden area too dangerous to inhabit after dark.
“Ridgeland put up a sign on I-55 that said, ‘Don’t be the last to turn the lights out,’” Matt Allen said. “That’s the reality we face. We’re tired of the negativity.”
Jackson rapper Kamikaze, another JP member, recently signed on as an investor in the Farish Street project, joining attorney David Watkins, the main developer of King Edward and the Standard Life Building. The Farish Street development has been hindered by years of snags, from contractors going to bankrupt to difficulties navigating the strict guidelines that come with developing an area that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Farish Street will get done,” Kamikaze said. To increase the foot traffic in the area, Kamikaze has started Wednesday Lunch at Peaches.
“We’re trying to get critical mass in that area,” Kamikaze said of hosting the get-togethers at the landmark restaurant.
Right adjacent to the TelCom Center is the Capital City Convention Center, scheduled for completion in time for a grand opening January 17. The 330,000-square-foot complex will feature a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, 60,000-square feet of exhibit space, 33,000-square feet of lobbies, concourse and reception areas, including two full-service concession areas, two boardrooms and 10 meeting rooms. Officials hope the facility will attract consumer trade shows and regional and national conventions.
“Jackson has not been able to host major events — national and international — because we didn’t have a convention center,” said Ben Minniefield, director of communications for the complex.
Mike Peters, owner of Peters Real Estate, has a handful of mixed-use developments in the downtown area, including the Plaza Building. Peters said the apartments have been especially popular.
Peters told the Realtors that, “in the future, you’re going to have the opportunity to make a lot of money selling the condos that are on the way. There is a market.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .