By TED CARTER
A nearly five-acre patch of land across Lakeland Drive from University of Mississippi Medical Center is about as close as a Jackson developer can get to a sure thing.
At least that’s the way development partners Stewart Speed and John Ditto see the property and its potential for success as home to a mixed-use development that will include more than 200 high-end apartments. They expect to fill the units with medical professionals, medical students, people who work in Fondren’s business district as well as anyone else “who appreciates the walkable, vibrant environment of Fondren,” Speed said.
Dubbed “The Meridian,” the development that will officially break ground on Feb. 25 is to be the first large project to go up in a planned medical corridor envisioned for a several-mile stretch extending from St. Dominic Hospital on Lakeland Drive to the Medical Mall on Woodrow Wilson Avenue. Creation of the corridor, and ones like it across Mississippi, will get help from a host of incentives offered through Mississippi’s 2012 Medical Zone Act (House Bill 2803), a key initiative of Gov. Bryant’s early years in office. The principal incentive for The Meridian is a 10-year discount on local taxes through a “fee in lieu of” arrangement.
Vacant land so close to an urban medical center and medical school, an interstate interchange a stone’s throw away and a mid-town community with hipness to spare – Speed and Ditto say they see an unmatched combination of circumstance and opportunity.
It’s a $33 million wager on a mixed-use rental development and a more-than-half-century lease that Speed, Ditto and their other partners say they are thrilled to make.
“Sign me up all day long,” Speed said of finding developable property across from a major medical center.
“This location is owned by UMMC. It is uniquely qualified to house what we’re going to have there,” said Speed, principal of Jackson’s Leaf River Group and managing partner in a development partnership that includes Ditto’s StateStreet Group and Kassinger Development Group of Charleston, S.C.
Rather than a city in Mississippi’s Lauderdale County, the development’s name reflects a geographical benefit, said Speed, with the property’s location in the center of Jackson’s metro area.
The partners have formed a parent company, SKD Development, to build the five-floor mixed-use Meridian on the 4.4-acre parcel owned by UMMC. They expect to open the complex in mid 2016.
With a 40-year lease and a pair of 20-year options, SKD Development plans an Art Deco-style complex with 240 balconied-apartments. The grounds will also include both garage and surface parking, a fitness center, outdoor kitchen and grilling pavilion and pool and sundeck.
A deli and coffee shop are among the uses for the 4,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor. Meeting space, which the partners expect UMMC to use often, will also be provided.
About 40 percent of the units will be studios of about 840 square feet and the remainder a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Monthly rents will start at around $900 for the studios to up to $1,600 for the small number of three-bedroom apartments that will be offered.
Parking will include 182 covered spaces in a garage that is to be partially below ground and 127 surface spaces in lots situated on three sides of the building. Tenants will pay a separate monthly fee or parking, according to Speed, who said prices on the spaces have yet to be set.
Speed and Ditto say the parking alone, considering its proximity to UMMC, could be a draw to workers who commute to the medical center and must park at Jackson State’s Memorial Stadium. “A lot of people will want to live at our place just to avoid having to park at the stadium and take a shuttle bus or walk across (State Street) when it is 100 degrees or 20 degrees,” Speed said.
“They eliminate a commute and a parking nightmare in one fell swoop.”
SKD Development won the development rights to the UMMC property through a Request for Proposals process. “We’re paying market value for this lease,” Speed said. “This is not a subsidized deal.”
What SKD proposed, Speed said, was an opportunity for the medical center and medical college to gain a recruiting asset, “particularly for research doctors from parts unknown.”
“When they get on the plane and come they want to see some big-city amenities to make them feel at home a little bit,” Speed said. “That is what this bring us.”
Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, New Orleans, Houston – “that’s the competition. All of those cities have this Meridian-Fondren thing… We’d better get with it,” he added.
Dr. James Keeton, the soon-to-retire UMMC Medical School dean, pursued the private-sector partnership to leverage UMMC’s assets and kick-start investment in the medical corridor, Speed noted.
“This is the first major salvo in that direction,” he said. “We hope it is the catalyst for additional development.”
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