By JACK WEATHERLY
The first-floor space at the northwest corner of the Plaza Building at 120 N. Congress St. has been vacant since October 2015 when La Finestra, an Italian cuisine restaurant, closed.
Now it appears that could soon change.
The for-lease signs have been taken from the windows. And there is a buzz about the rumored leasee.
That would be Sweetie Pie’s, a soul food restaurant with a following amplified by a reality television show based on a family that runs restaurants called Sweetie Pie’s.
Tim Norman, a member of the cast of the lively reality show “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s,” was seen recently looking over the Plaza Building property.
Efforts to reach someone connected with the show and the restaurant enterprise for this article were unsuccessful.
The reality of the show is an African-American family that has a soul food restaurant empire.
The last episode of the seven-year-old series aired last Saturday on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
The matriarch of the show is Robbie Montgomery, a native of Mississippi whose singing career led her to become part of the Ike and Tina Turner band.
Business plans are sometimes not carried out.
Here is what happened in one instance involving Sweetie Pie’s.
The St. Louis-based business announced in 2014 that it was going to open a restaurant on Beale Street in Memphis.
A large sign was put on the property at 349 Beale and transformation to a Sweetie Pie’s commenced.
But the restaurant never opened, according to Memphis news media. The owners of the restaurant and the landlord became embroiled in a legal battle over rent payment and payment for improvements.
After the plan was scrapped, the site became a 6,900-square-foot Wahlburgers hamburger eatery, which opened last year.
Similarly, Wahlburgers has a reality TV show on A&E to promote the hamburger chain. The show relies on the star power of brothers Donnie and Mark Wahlberg, actors and singers.
Jimmy Kitchens of the Estes Group, which manages the 12-story, art deco skyscraper built in 1929, said the owner, Tower Capital LLC of Beverly Hills, Calif., wants a restaurant that would complement two long-standing eateries under the Plaza roof – Basil’s,with its pannini’s and pasta, and Kiefer’s Greek fare.
Kitchens said the tenant wanted to wait about a week before announcing plans.
Regardless of the next key tenant, the skyscraper is going through changes and upgrades.
The restaurant space will be expanded severalfold, said Roosevelt Wilson, director of maintenance and property operations for Tower Capital.
Plus the art deco lobby will get some sprucing up, including restoration of the original stone flooring and addition of light fixtures of the era.
The three elevators will be remodeled and all lighting will be converted to LED, Wilson said.
A big part of the project in terms of money is the cooling tower that has been installed on the roof at a cost of $3 million, he said.
Those interested in developments in downtown Jackson, which has been undergoing a slow but steady renaissance for the past decade, will just have to wait and stay tuned.
Ben Allen, president of the Downtown Jackson Partners, a business improvement district, is running with it:
“We are thrilled that a successful and popular restaurant is investing in the future and livability of our downtown,” Allen said in an email. “This news spread enthusiastically like wildfire, especially with those people familiar with this restaurant and her offerings”
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