JACKSON, Mississippi — Fresh off getting the boot from Jackson’s Farish Street redevelopment project, developer David Watkins took over the chairmanship of Downtown Jackson Partners Wednesday.
Watkins, principal of Watkins Development and rescuer of the King Edward Hotel and Standard Life Building, succeeds Trustmark Bank’s Harry Walker as chair of the public-private agency that oversees downtown’s Business Improvement District and seeks to promote downtown as a live, work and play destination.
While Watkins may have responsibility for guiding DJP policies, his current difficulties with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority prevent him for setting foot on Farish Street. That message was spelled out in an Oct. 7nasty-gram from JRA lawyer Pernilla Stimley Brown: “This letter is to advise you that under no circumstances should any of FSG’s members, agent or representatives, or any agents or representatives of Watkins Development Group LLC enter any of the parcels or premises formerly leased by FSG. Any unauthorized entry by you or anyone operating at your request will be deemed to be trespassing.”
Watkins took over a sputtering Farish Street redevelopment effort in 2008, but in the years that followed he seemed to be met with a setback with every step forward in carrying out a plan to transform the once-thriving African American business district into an entertainment destination. Work crews installed water and sewer lines, re-bricked the first block of the street, redid the facades of buildings and set about doing the build-out work as a prelude to Watkins securing tenant leases.
A significant part of the project’s budget is to be derived from historic tax credits. In exchange for the credits, the Farish Group had to move ahead carefully to ensure it used materials and designs that upheld the historic integrity of each building.
A big delay occurred with the discovery that engineers hired by the JRA to examine the structural soundness of the buildings prior to 2008 had failed to note the former home to a dry cleaning service lacked a true foundation. The structural repairs took a bite of about $1.5 million out of the project’s budget and further delayed what had already been a slow-moving project.
Thought Watkins-led Farish Group took over the project in 2008, it did not receive a lease offer on the project until 2010. The lease, which carried a 45-year term, was scrapped by the JRA board earlier this month.
Where the project goes from here is anyone’s guess.
But Watkins, as both the former developer and new chair of DJP, says he is keeping his fingers crossed that the revitalization of the street is eventually achieved.