GREENVILLE — In recent years Delta communities have been losing population as many young people move elsewhere for employment opportunities. A new development in downtown Greenville, The Lofts at 517, is being designed to create a synergy to bring back not just the downtown, but former residents.
That is what is happening with Allen and Erin Sanders, who grew up in Greenville and after operating the popular Delta Steak Company in Oxford, have decided to come home to open a new restaurant called the Downtown Grille at The Lofts at 517.
Recently the Sanderses were announced as the tenants for the new full-service restaurant in one of four buildings being renovated downtown by businessman Bill Boykin. The Downtown Grille will be located in the same building as the Delta’s first microbrewery, the Mighty Miss Brewing Co.. The historic Sears building nearby is being renovating into multiple uses, including two retail spaces, 12 condominiums, a boutique hotel with 16 suites and covered parking. A third building will be used as a co-work space for young entrepreneurs. It will be an affiliate of Launchpad New Orleans.
Boykin is excited about the Sanderses’ plans to open the Downtown Grille.
“It is going to be really appealing,” Boykin said. “Allen has a lot of experience and is a great chef. He got a lot of chef training at Ole Miss and worked at the Inn of Ole Miss before he opened up on his own. He has been recognized in numerous magazines for his accomplishments. It is great we have someone like him and his wife who want to come back to be involved in the downtown. They already have a following with people who know their restaurant in Oxford, and with other people their age who have come back home. We’ve got a good base of young people like the Sanders who have started to move back for opportunities.”
Allen Sanders said he finds it amazing that the whole downtown area has been untouched for so long.
“You can’t recreate the character of these historic buildings in downtown Greenville,” he said. “My wife and I choose to open the restaurant here because it was an opportunity to be part of something more than just opening up a new restaurant. We will be part of revitalizing downtown, which is the town where I grew up. It is huge for me.”
Boykin said if Greenville is going to come back, it will take young people coming back and trying to do things to improve the overall health of the community.
“It is an important thing to me,” he said. “I want to see my hometown do well again.”
The $9.1-million downtown redevelopment project has been underway now for five years. Boykin said it is rewarding to now be at the phase where the restoration inside has advanced to the Sheetrock stage. The project is being credited for stimulating more downtown properties being sold.
“Since we started in January, nine other pieces of property on Washington Ave. have sold,” Boykin said. “That is awesome. The interesting thing about it is people are not just buying, but reinvesting. That’s what we wanted.”
Boykin, a mechanical contractor, said work on the facade of the Sears building has shown the promise of what is to come.
“Everything has changed,” he said. “It is a beautiful property, and will give a lot of credence for revitalization of downtown. It is a fun project.”
The Mighty Miss Brewing Co. will be the first microbrewery in the Delta.
“It is a big deal for the community to see the microbrewery going in,” Boykin said. “It means things are changing.”
Jon Alverson, publisher of Delta Democrat-Times and president of Mighty Miss Brewing, said Greenville is ripe for a microbrewery.
“We’re just happy he included us in his plans,” Alverson said. “This is the start of something we hope will be big one day. We’ve done our research. The beer business is a growth industry, and we are the first to market in this area. And the product won’t just be in the Delta, but all over the state and hope to reach across the state lines. We hope to see it online as soon as possible.”
Will The Lofts be the tipping point for downtown? Alverson said while an apartment and hotel complex itself can’t save the city, it paves the way to start attracting the kind of development to grow the city.
Boykin said the projects will be destination points for people, including tourists from the three river cruise boats that are now stopping in Greenville. Greenville is also part of the designated Blues Trail, which also attracts visitors.
Some cynics have questioned whether the project can really make a difference.
“People thought I was crazy in the beginning, but somebody had to do it,” Boykin said. “Every community has to stand up and take a chance. I love the community. It is where I was born and raised. I want to do what I can to give back.”
Boykin said the project couldn’t have happened without the support of Guaranty Bank and Trust, new market tax credits and historical tax credits.
“Mississippi has a fantastic historical tax credit program,” he said.
After Sheetrock is installed in the Sears building, painting is expected to begin in mid-to-late December. The hotel and loft apartments are expected to open sometime in March or April 2017.
When 20,000 people recently were in Greenville for the Hot Tamale Festival, a lot of people got their first exposure to the restoration. Some visitors have already asked about booking a hotel room for the Hot Tamale Festival in 2017.
“The project has been positive for our community,” Boykin said. “We have needed something to let us know we are better than we think we are. That is the main thing about it. Our downtown is safe and quiet. It’s a jewel. We just have to get everyone to come back down here after they get off in the evening and see what it is.”
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