» City says framework is in place but business group says deterioration continues
Proclaimed a top revival candidate by Harvey Johnson in his recent Jackson mayoral term, the U.S. Highway 80 corridor stretching from the Pearl River to Clinton underwent extensive land-use changes before Johnson left office.
Johnson aimed his effort at creating a master zoning plan that would eventually upgrade the corridor’s commercial and residential mix.
Thus, the table is set. The new businesses and residential developments just need to show up, says Bennie Hopkins, Jackson’s director of planning and development.
On the other hand, the head of the Highway 80 Coalition advised prospective businesses won’t see any change along the nine-mile stretch of used car lots, pawn shops, check cashing stores, fast food outlets, lounges, liquor stores and auto repair shops. “It has just gone down,” said Nina Holbrook, director of the Metrocenter Area Coalition, the corridor’s business association.
“There’s no way that is has been enhanced that I can see. More businesses have left.”
Hopkins would not disagree with Holbrook. He emphasized that the City of Jackson put the land-use designations in place and created the half dozen districts to which the various commercial, mixed-use commercial, industrial and residential designations apply. The city is a stage-setter — not a developer, he said.
A key achievement of what former Mayor Johnson dubbed the GO-80 initiative was to give confidence to new businesses that they could move in and not have incompatible uses grow up around them, Hopkins said.
“Some people thought the city was going to go out there and develop. But that is not what we do. We lay the framework.”
He conceded, however, that the city has not put money into visual enhancements. The aesthetic improvements that have been made came through a $1.4 million federal grant administered by Hinds County and awarded to the Metrocenter Area Coalition, he said.
But as new development comes to the U.S. 80 stretch, it must contribute to improving the looks of the corridor by adhering to new standards for architecture, landscaping, lighting, sidewalks and curb cuts and signage, among other requirements, Hopkins noted.
Some new commercial development has recently arrived, according to Hopkins.
Among these, he said, are a Dollar General store, a CARQUEST Auto Parts and SRS Roofing Distribution, a roofing supply company that set up shop in a former plumbing supply building after last spring’s hail storm.
Hopkins said the multi-acre site on which the soon-to-depart Puckett Machinery is designated for mixed-use and could be redeveloped. Puckett, a dealer of Caterpillar heavy equipment, is moving into a 150,000-square-foot, $30-million facility in Flowood in the next several months.
While Puckett’s move takes away a significant number of workers, the corridor will gain around 200 workers when Jatran opens up its $7-million main bus storage facility at U.S. 80 and Valley Street. “It will be up and running soon,” Hopkins said. “You can look at it as an investment in the corridor.”
The corridor also has been designated an Urban Redevelopment Area, thus making new commercial enterprises eligible for funding assistance from the Jackson Redevelopment Authority.
The sweeping land-use changes established for U.S. 80 carry with them a requirement for patience. The changes designated a host of incompatible uses such as pawn shops, tattoo parlors, payday loan business, strip clubs and other adult entertainment establishments.
The rub is that the ones that are in place can remain as grandfathered non-conforming uses. If they close for more than six months, however, they can’t reopen on their current site, Hopkins said,.
“It’s good to get rid of them,” Holbrook of the Metrocenter Area Coalition said, but voiced frustration that it could be many years before any true transformation takes place.
Holbrook, who sells commercial real estate in Southwest Jackson, said the slow process does not bode well for hopes of reviving the 60-percent vacant Metrocenter Mall. “Metrocenter will never do like it needs to do until that corridor is cleaned up,” she said.
The Coalition is frustrated, she said, by the weak code enforcement along the corridor and the city’s reluctance to replace damaged fixtures such as road signs. “We have signs knocked out in Katrina that are still knocked out,” Holbrook said.
For the time being, proponents of an enhanced U.S. 80 are hoping Mayor Chokwe Lumumba will put the corridor on his radar.
“We’ll try to hang on the best we can and hope the new mayor will come though with some ideas,” she said.
Lumumba said in a recent interview he has not decided whether to pick up where Harvey Johnson left off. He said he “feels it’s an important corridor,” but went on to name others such as Mississippi Highway 18, U.S. Highway 49, Medgar Evers Boulevard and Capitol Street that he considers equally important.