Commerce Park Business Association working to stop crime

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Published: November 26,2001

JACKSON — In the 30 years that Duke Cain operated Cain Lithographers in downtown Jackson, his business was broken into only once. Since moving to Commerce Park 10 years ago, Cain Lithographers has been broken into 15 times.

And Cain is not only the business owner in Commerce Park who has been victimized by crime. In the short time period between Aug. 30 and Oct. 17, there were 11 break-ins reported among Commerce Park’s 25 businesses.

“There has been a huge exodus of businesses from Jackson to the suburbs and crime has dramatically increased,” said Cain, who is president of the Commerce Park Business Association. “We have been working for years to try to restore the Commerce Park neighborhood but crime can stop every bit of that.”

Commerce Park is located just north of Woodrow Wilson between the Jackson Medical Mall and Veterans Memorial Stadium. Shaped in a crescent, the industrial park is surrounded on three sides by the Illinois Central Railroad. The west side borders Bailey Avenue and the Illinois Central tracks, the east side borders Mill Street and Illinois Central and the north side is Mitchell Avenue and Stonewall Street.

“It comes in waves,” Cain said of the crime. “Our association was actually founded because there was a need to combat crime. The perception over here of crime is much worse than the reality.”

Cain blames the crime on drug trafficking in the area.

“The things stolen from the companies are things that can be quickly disposed of,” he said. “In our case it’s tools from employees’ cars, microwaves and used vacuum cleaners. Usually the cost of repairing the break-ins is more than the cost of whatever is stolen.”

Recently, there has been good response from Precinct 3 Jackson police officers, Cain said, and they have begun dusting for fingerprints. “The police officers didn’t used to do even that,” he said.

There are gates, razor wire, alarm systems and video surveillance cameras set up throughout Commerce Park, and there is a neighborhood watch as well.

“We have a fax network so that if there is any instance of crime in Commerce Park we immediately notify everyone in the industrial park. We have meetings of the association on a fairly regular basis to discuss these concerns.”

Members also make every effort to know the officers on their beat and stay in touch with the police department precinct staff, Cain said.

“There’s really nothing more we can do as citizens to solve the problem,” Cain said. “The solution has to come from the police to do whatever is necessary to catch the criminals. If the police could effectively clean out the drug traffic and arrest one or two people, I’m sure the problem would go away.”

John Grafe, owner of The Elephant’s Ear, an antique store at 3110 Old Canton Road, recently began leasing warehouse space at Commerce Park. Prior to that, he was renting storage units in metro Jackson. He decided to lease warehouse space at Commerce Park because it was less than a mile from his business, easy to get into and out of and about 2,300 square feet.

When he moved into his warehouse space six months ago, Grafe did not have an alarm system. He does now. His losses are around $30,000 since moving in, and, he said, that is at cost.

“I hope the police will patrol there better,” Grafe said. “We’ve done all we know to do.”

Grafe likened his antiques being stolen to “someone walking into your house and there not being any TVs for them to take.”

“First there were tools and radios,” Grafe said. “I think it was just random what was broken and what was taken. It was sort of a crash and dash sort of method.”

Wurzburg Inc., a wholesale packaging distributor and manufacturer, has a warehouse distribution center in Jackson.

“Obviously we’re very fortunate that we haven’t been struck at the moment,” said president Richard Wurzburg. “Obviously we’re concerned for our employees and for the company.”

David Booth, president of Preferred Labor Corporation in Jackson, owns Tandem Staffing for Industry, which specializes in industrial staffing.

“Squeaky wheels get the grease but I hate being the squeaky wheel,” Booth said.

Since he opened for business in 1996, Booth has had 10 break-ins and he has had his car vandalized.

“Responses and reaction from JPD traditionally have been poor. However, I think over the last six to nine months it has improved significantly. The last break-in I had was about two months ago and I think they were here within six minutes of the alarm going off. I am encouraged by that.”

Regardless of the break-ins, Booth said he likes his location for the type of business he is in.

“I’m a property owner here,” he said. “I pay pretty hefty property and content taxes being in Jackson and Hinds County. I’ve considered relocating to Rankin County, but I’d rather stay here if there’s any way.

“I wish the city would put in more lighting. There are some areas over by the railroad tracks behind here that are wooded and easy for folks to hide in. I’d like to see that cleared.”

Booth may get his wish. The City of Jackson is working on lowering Commerce Park crime, according to Franklyn L. Tate, interim deputy director of the City of Jackson’s Department of Planning and Development in the Office of Economic Development. Tate, who is on the subcommittee for park improvement and development for the city, met with the Commerce Park Business Association at its last regular meeting to discuss the needs and wants of the park’s tenants.

“I think the main thing is establishing a relationship relative to individual officers and the tenants in the park and just increasing our patrolling efforts,” Tate said. “We have sought to do that in recent months.”

The other thing the city is trying to accomplish, Tate said, is to get more lighting in the area.

“Public safety is a component of park improvement and/or development and we’re going to look at ways of modifying the perception as well as the reality of vandalism,” Tate said. “The other charge that subcommittee will have is to improve the streets and the curbing and maybe put a park sign up, all in an effort to improve the overall perception of the park.”

Tate is planning to meet with Cain and others willing to serve on his subcommittee in the future.

“The reality is that probably within about a month we should have met and developed a plan for short-range improvements,” Tate said. “We’ve got to get public works out there to get an idea of cost. Hopefully by the spring we should see some marked improvements as far as resurfacing, signage, roads and lighting.”

J. Terry Lavery, CCIM, GRI, CPM, senior real estate advisor at Sawyer Commercial, LLC, an affiliate of Grubb & Ellis, is the leasing agent for 410 Commerce, located in Commerce Park. It took him 18 months to get Wurzburg Inc. to locate there.

“These aren’t kids breaking into businesses in Commerce Park,” Lavery said. “These are pros who pass that business down to their apprentices. It’s just sad that jobs are there but citizens aren’t being protected.”

Lavery said his clients at Commerce Park, which include Wurzburg, CM Express and the Elephant’s Ear, must feel they have made a questionable choice in investing in Jackson.

“It’s tough enough now to stay in business in an economically hard time to have looters roaming the streets while we’re at war,” Lavery said. “Really, Jackson as a city has a lot of responsibility to the State of Mississippi. We should be the place that people look to. This sh
ould be the pinnacle of Mississippi. It should be the best of what the state has to offer.

“It’s sad that a place can hold an Olympic time trial and a year later it’s business as usual.”

Dr. Jacquelyn Franklin, professor of social science education and curriculum coordinator for the Center for Urban Affairs at Jackson State University, believes the problem

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