Jimmy Fowler founded Highland Village in 1972 and for two generations it maintained its niche as a premier high-end shopping place in Jackson.
“Curated,” is the term that Lou Masiello uses to describe how Fowler and his son-in-law, Guy Boyle, managed the center.
The upscale center at the Northside Drive exit on Interstate 55 has kept its village look.
Now it is giving a nod to the retail architecture of the day, with bit of the “lifestyle mall” treatment, as one tenant put it.
Workers are hustling to make a deadline this week on revamping the central courtyard — even laboring into the night under klieg lights — said Masiello, vice president of development for Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based WS Development.
Aside from the purchase price, which is confidential for the private developer, WS has put $12 million into the property.
WS Development was smitten by the village — a “beautiful, beloved” property as Masiello put it — which it bought in October 2012, in its 40th year,
Without spoiling the formula, the new owners wanted to refresh and enliven the property with new blood. Highland Village fits into the short list of what the Massachusetts developer considers its “high-end retail” properties.
Of all the 87 retail properties encompassing 20 million square feet in its portfolio, Highland Village is unique, Masiello says. “There is no analog to it our portfolio,” he said.
They didn’t waste time in carrying out their vision. WS built a 35,000-square-foot shell for Whole Foods — the first and and still the only outlet in the state for the pricey Austin, Texas-based chain that specializes in organic and fresh foods — which opened in February 2014, bringing the center’s total to 220,000 square feet, he said.
On the heels of Whole Foods’ arrival came national stores Lululemon athletica, Kate Spade New York and J. McLaughlin — sportswear for women; clothing for women; and clothing for men, women and children, respectively.
Red Square, a local clothier that emphasizes denim, joined the new bunch.
“We’ve maintained a philosophy of relying very heavily on local merchants,” while adding national tenants “in a manner that is supportive to the local merchants, consistent with their businesses and not contradictory,” Masiello said.
In making room for the new stores, a test was coming for the owners.
Some relocation was needed.
Fortunately, Alan Weeks, owner of Turkoyz and Turkoyz at Home, which have been in the village for nine and four years, respectively, had been wanting to expand his stores.
WS killed two birds with one decision. It built a passageway by basically demolishing a piece of a building.
Nearly half of the Turkoyz stores’ combined space of 2,400 square feet was sacrificed to make way for a passageway to the center of the village. “Now you can walk right from the parking lot directly into these interior courtyards to patronize these stores,” Masiello said.
Weeks is happy because he has doubled his square footage and has the stores side by side instead of together.
And his jewelry and home stores are the flagship for a growing regional chain, with shops in Baton Rouge, Memphis, Oxford, Hattiesburg and Covington, La.
Even with the anticipated hike in the rent, Weeks said that the developer is not using the property as a cash cow.
“They immediately started making improvements,” he said.
Expansion can cause growing pains.
WS earlier this year got permission from the City Council to create a parking lot on nearby Kimwood Street, primarily for employees, which would necessitate leveling two houses. A resident appealed the decision and that is still pending in Hinds County Circuit Court, Masiello said.
Expansion can also mean tough choices. Juniker Jewelry, which has been in the village since 1988, will move to another “Highland” at the end of August.
Owners John and Don Ravenstein are building on Highland Colony Parkway in Madison. They said they just couldn’t find the space they needed at Highland Village. They’ll have it with 7,000 square feet, nearly triple what they have now.
WS found a good match to watch over its Jackson property. Masa Liles has returned to her hometown to be general manager for Highland Village.
She has three decades in retailing, most recently as regional marketing director for seven Simon Property Group shopping centers ranging from California to Washington, D.C. Simon is the nation’s largest retail real estate owner and operator.
She started her career as an assistant manager at the Gap in Metrocenter Mall.
“This is so appealing to me,” Liles, whose first name is pronounced may-sah, said in an interview. She said that when she heard of the opportunity, she “jumped at the chance.”