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Pickering (left) and Gary Watts tour the production room of the old ice plant that will become a dining and entertainment venue.

Old ice plant to turn back pages of downtown Jackson

Jack Pickering stands on the front steps of Morris Ice Co. on Commerce Street.

By JACK WEATHERLY
jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com

Jack Pickering worked in Charleston, S.C. for a while, which gave him a perspective and an entrepreneurial vision on Jackson.

He was taken by the South Carolina city known for its charming historical downtown that is a major tourist attraction.

After he landed a job as manager of a new retail shop in Charleston, Circle Seven Outpost & Provisions, a joint effort with Garden & Gun magazine, he turned his eyes back to the capital of his home state.

He plans to convert the old Morris Ice Co. on Commerce Street into a restaurant and music venue and further invest in downtown as an entertainment destination.

“I want to help Jackson thrive, specifically downtown” by redevelopment with “a sense of community.”

In the past decade, downtown has seen many new public and private developments totaling nearly $1 billion.

Slightly more than one-quarter of that amount came from the private sector, aided by government tax incentives and loans.

The turnaround, mostly along Capitol Street, includes several hundred apartments already open, in some stage of development or on the drawing board.

The King Edward hotel, long abandoned, was saved from the wrecking ball and converted into an upscale hotel and apartments and a Westin hotel was built.

Into that mix comes Pickering, a 2016 graduate of Ole Miss with his plan.

Pickering said he is talking with a lender about the project and is working with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History about getting a historic designation for the plant, a step toward possible tax credits.

Pickering has deep family roots in Mississippi. His father, Chip, was a six-term U.S. representative for the Third District after he served as a staff member for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott. Jack Pickering’s grandfather, Charles W. Pickering, was a federal judge.

But it is the multigenerational history of Morris Ice Co. that is on the agenda for the 25-year-old Pickering.

Earlier this week, he conducted a tour of the building at 652 Commerce St. that was erected in 1924 and abandoned at the end of the block-ice age, which for this company was 1988.

It was the second incarnation of the company, which opened initially in 1880 on the Pearl River, where it produced clean, if slightly brown ice from the river, according to “Cooling the South: The Block Ice Era,” a book by Elli Morris, great-granddaughter of founder Joseph Morris. That plant burned in 1923. The second Morris plant opened in 1924.

The plant appears to be as it was when it ceased operations in 1988.

Giant flywheels stand ghostly still in the production space where the ice was made in 300-pound blocks that were sized to fit the needs of customer, whether for household deliveries for “iceboxes” or to commercial customers.

In the ground-level space where the restaurant, bar and entertainment space will be sits a 1964 baby-blue Cadillac covered in the dust of history. Pickering plans to get it up and running and bearing the name of the new business.

It will be a rolling bluesmobile for the nightspot featuring Mississippi’s native music.

“I’m going to get it,” he said of the old sedan.

It is part of an inventory of personal items in the facility, whether in the upstairs offices or in the mammoth 50-foot cube that was the storage room for ice or on the grounds of the four-acre site.

In it is a Dickensian jumble of things, some of which would be at home at Miss Havisham’s forlorn house.

The family has given the new owner broad freedom to choose what he wants, he said.

“I really think this [the ice plant] could be a catalyst for Commerce Street,” he said.

The business will simply use the name that has been around for nearly 140 years, the Morris Ice Co.

Pickering’s vision goes well beyond the four-acre property that he bought.

He sees Commerce Street as a corridor of entertainment and other arts, even connected by a trolley that would run on an abandoned rail spur.

Something of that scope would take others to make it happen, he said. For that reason, he’s in the process of forming a “team.”

On his side already is Nancy Bell, director of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, who has written a letter to the National Register for Historic Places.

“It is historically . . . [and] architecturally important to the city of Jackson,” Bell said in a telephone interview. “I’ve been in this for 36 years and it’s the coolest building I’ve been in,” she said, “mostly because everything is there. It’s the last historic ice house in Jackson.”

“We do consulting anywhere in Mississippi” for a fee, Bell said.

She said there is money available in Mississippi to fund such projects, as well as federal money.

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