Look for the New Year to bring a return of live blues to Jackson’s Farish Street with the opening of Mississippi’s first B.B. King’s Blues Club, says Tommy Peters, president of Memphis-based Beale Street Blues Co. Inc.
Beale Street Blues Co.’s recent signing of a 15-year lease on the former Star Laundry building on Farish Street puts in place a key element in the plans of Watkins Development to bring life back to a street that once served as a key entertainment and shopping destination for Jackson’s African-American residents.
Peters said the B.B. King’s Club that will occupy the first two floors and the Itta Bena restaurant on the third floor should be open by late December or early January.
“We finally got it done,” Peters said of the lease signing with Watkins.
Watkins restored the exterior to its original stucco exterior and readied the space inside for buildout. The bandstand, club seats and dance floor will be on the ground floor. The second floor has a mezzanine design that gives club goers a full view of the bandstand. Bars will be situated throughout.
“Our venues are created for live entertainment but we make our money on food and beverage,” Peters said. The Itta Bena will specialize in sit down, higher-end fare, he noted.
Mississippi native and blues legend B.B. King is involved in getting the club opened and will be a frequent performer there, according to Peters.
Beale Street Blues Co. has B.B. King’s clubs in Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Las Vegas. It means a lot to King to get one opened in Mississippi’s capital city, Peters said.
“Oh, yes. It was very important for B.B. to do one in Jackson. He’s very proud of being a Mississippian. The state has done a lot for his museum in Indianola. B.B. wants to promote Mississippi wherever he goes.”
Jason Goree, Watkins Development vice president, said the B.B. King’s Blues Club and Itta Bena leases accompanied the signing of three other key leases: a cigar store, the Zac Harmon’s Subway Lounge and Flagrant Sports Lounge.
“Now that we have these five leases other tenants will come.”
The B.B. King’s Blues Club and Itta Bena will occupy the old Star Laundry on the east side of Farish near its intersection with Amite Street.
The block of Farish from Amite to Griffith Street is the heart of an effort to restore life to a two-block stretch of the street that once housed a thriving African-American business and entertainment district. Work on the second block from Griffith to Hamilton Street will begin after completion of leasing of the first block.
B.B. King’s Blues Club will anchor one end of the block while a new incarnation of Jackson’s famed Zac Harmon’s Subway Lounge, formerly of the Summers Hotel, will anchor the east end at Griffith Street, according to Goree.
Goree said the first one-block phase will be music clubs with the exception of the Flagrant Sports Lounge and a Wet Willie’s, a frozen drink bar which will be built on a spot on the east side of the street left vacant by a building fire. A courtyard with benches and an area for live entertainment will be situated next to Wet Willie’s.
“Wet Willie’s will be the only new structure,” he said.
Workers have completed 75 percent of the “white boxing” of the full block of buildings.
The white boxing gives tenants new exteriors that replicate each building’s original exterior as well as new roofing, ceilings, plumbing, wiring and air conditioning and heating. “We’re making a lot of progress,” Goree said.
Watkins Development has a 45-year lease with the Jackson Development Authority for the redevelopment of Farish Street.