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JACK WEATHERLY — Accidental tourists, or what have you got for us?

Downtown Jackson

Downtown Jackson

A couple from Seattle dressed in West Coast black stood in front of the Hotel King Edward, which was bathed in bright late-winter sunlight in all its resurrected glory.

The couple was in town to catch a baseball game, of all things.

They were accidental tourists.

Their son was the starting shortstop for the visiting University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, who were to play the Jackson State Tigers that afternoon. (He wanted to play Division I ball and so he left the Puget Sound and wound up in northwest Tennessee.)

The couple had time to explore the city.

Across Capitol Street was a row of old, vacant shops with no sign of imminent change.

I figured the couple wanted to be around, you know, people.

JACK WEATHERLY

JACK WEATHERLY

“First, you want to leave downtown and go to .  . .  Fondren,”  I said. After all, Fondren is billed as “the hippest neighborhood in Jackson.”

I said goodbye and walked off. Then I felt a little guilty.

Hey, there’s much more to the town, I should have told them, and turned around and headed back to the hotel, but they were gone.

I could have offered them a helping of High Southern culture at Eudora Welty’s house in Belhaven, for instance.

Maybe I should have sent them a few blocks east on Capitol to the intersection with Lamar to see the three limestone statues called The Storytellers: William Faulkner, Miss Welty and Richard Wright.

I could’ve said they could catch scenes of the city (and state) in the 16 movies made here last year.

Maybe they weren’t that hip. Just Mom and Dad traveling to Junior’s first game.

It occurred to me that they could’ve gotten a bootful of regional color at the Dixie National Rodeo at the fairgrounds.

But too late.

I’ve only been living and working here for four months (though I worked in downtown Jackson for The Clarion-Ledger for a few years), so who am I, an ambassador for the city?

How could I not be?

I work in beautiful downtown Jackson. I am charmed by the well-preserved buildings, commercial, governmental and sacred.

(OK, the Woolfolk Building looks like a monument to Joseph Stalin, but that’s an exception.)

Peering from the fourth floor of the modern building at 200 North Congress where our offices are, I can see Miss Welty’s father’s soaring Lamar Life building in its gothic castle grandeur.

And the neoclassical cake-topper of the governor’s manse catty-cornered from us.

And the Plaza Building, an art deco skyscraper across Amite. (That’s ah-MIT, in case you’re from Seattle.)

In the distance is the Standard Life tower.

Closer in is the impressive stone cathedral of First Baptist Church. I know it’s not technically a cathedral, but it is architecturally.

I wondered if it hadn’t originally been Catholic or Episcopalian, but the good Baptists built it in 1926.

There is a smaller gothic church not far from First Baptist. Formerly the home of First Christian, it’s been on the market for several years.

Gold crosses on the steeple of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle glow in the morning sun, sending a bright signal that when all seems lost, there is hope.

Homeless people congregate in the lovely, one-block-square Smith Park, bordered by St. Peter’s on the west and on the north by Galloway United Methodist, a stolid, romanesque structure whose bells toll the hours.

One winter night as I was leaving to go home, a woman’s voice hailed me from blackness of the park: “Merry Christmastime.”

Otherwise there are few people downtown on the streets after sundown — or between 8 and 5.

It’s as if a neutron bomb —you know, the atomic device that supposedly kills people but leaves the buildings— had gone off.

But much has been done in downtown in recent years in terms of restoring and transforming historical buildings.

Call it the first phase. The second — perhaps led by the forlorn Farish Street project — waits its turn.

I’ve just returned from living 13 years in Little Rock, which has a lot in common with Jackson.

In the past few years, its Main Street — long abandoned as the retail and business center of the city — is undergoing a transformation.

It has been labeled the Creative Corridor because it has attracted the performing arts, but it will soon have a hotel to go with restaurants and a nightclub.

That’s all thanks to an investment of $75 million (by last account) by private investors, and key support in the form of government tax credits.

So maybe the message to Jackson is: Save it and they will come.

» Contact MBJ staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or 601-364-1016.

About Jack Weatherly

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