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Smith Park before

Smith Park: ‘We just felt like we had to do something’

The concept design for the future of Smith Park in Downtown Jackson.

By JULIA MILLER

In the heart of downtown Jackson, Smith Park is getting a much-needed refresh after recent efforts to revitalize the historic area.

“For 10 to 15 years, or even longer it’s been tired and has needed a major renovation,” said John Gomez, associate director at Jackson Downtown Partners.

“We just felt like we had to do something.”

For the past four years, a group of individuals, led by Downtown Partners, has joined with the city to see the park restored to its original 19th century design with a flat, open space concept. The last renovation the park saw was in 1973 when it underwent a renovation that brought in a lot of concrete, flowers, and mounds to mimic meandering through a forest.

“The City of Jackson is excited to partner with Downtown Jackson Partners in the restoration of Smith Park,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

“This project is symbolic of the renaissance occurring in Downtown Jackson. When completed, Smith Park will be a world-class green space for all of Jackson and the state to enjoy.”

“This renovaton could bring a new attitude to this part of downdown,” said Tami Jones, associate publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal, which has a fourth-floor office overlooking Smith Park.

“Perhaps this more attractive view and safer atmosphere will be more appealing to other businesses.”

Major efforts began in the fall of 2016 with the removal of old and dying trees. At the end of 2017, phase two began, which focused on removing excess concrete, the elimination of unsightly berms and the re-sodding of grass to create a more open and level green space for visitors to use in a safe and inviting environment. Gomez said the work is done, but they are asking visitors to remain off the grass for the moment to ensure the resodding holds.

With the first two phases complete, the Friends have turned their attention to Phase III. The current plans include adding landscaped walkways, a modern stage near Amite Street to accommodate concerts and other entertainment, and a water pad and playground for children.

“Smith Park is testament to what can happen when a city and its residents come together during a period of financial hardship to improve the quality of life for the entire state,” said Ben Allen, president of Downtown Jackson Partners.

The price tag for the three-phase project clocks in at $2.5-million. So far, phases one and two have been funded by Jackson Downtown Partners.

“It was park that wasn’t being used to its potential,” Gomez said.

With its proximity to the Governor’s mansion as well as the two new museums, Gomez said the area attracts a lot of visitors and school children. In addition, the area has seen many building facelifts and an influx of new businesses. Areas like Smith Park can provide the perfect location for a picnic lunch or even a midday stroll to unwind.

“We felt like this was a project we could team up with the city on,” he said. “We want people to be able to enjoy a nice park whether they are in downtown for business or leisure time.”

Smith Park is one of the oldest continuously used city parks in America. It is the only surviving undeveloped square from the original 1822 plan for Mississippi’s then new capital.

Named for James Smith Jr., a colorful 19th century Scottish merchant and Jackson transplant who donated funds to improve the park in 1884, the green space is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

“Mississippi gave this land to the City of Jackson in 1838 for the express purpose of being enjoyed as a park, and this project will ensure that those plans remain for future generations,” said Michael Rejebian, president of Jackson’s Downtown Neighborhood Association.

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