Old Capitol Green begins process of bringing mixed-use, green space to downtown Jackson

by Lynn Lofton

Published: October 2,2006

Leaders of the Old Capitol Green project say things are coming together for the ambitious eight-block venture that promises to reinvigorate downtown with mixed-use and green space.

“We’re very excited. We’ve selected Full Spectrum as the master developer for the Old Capitol Green District, and we will complete that process and formalize it with a letter of intent and memorandum of agreement,” said John Turner, Entergy Mississippi economic development director. “They will start the process of design and construction phase.”
He said finalizing plans for the infrastructure — much of which has been started by the city — must be addressed first.

John Lawrence, president of Downtown Jackson Partners, said the city is investigating the water and sewer infrastructure that was built in 1906.

“It will have to be rebuilt along with the street,” he said, “and there’s an old railroad track running through the property that will have to be moved. We hope the master developer will coordinate all of this and it will all go in at the same times as the buildings are built.”

While Lawrence and Turner say drawings posted to the project’s Web site are preliminary and will change according to the developer, both want a mixed-use area that incorporates retail, dining, entertainment, residential and hotel use.

“The look and mix can change as we move along,” Lawrence said. “It could look like an old warehouse.”

Turner says he hopes to see a lot of green space along with curbside restaurants and retail space. “We gave them the type of buildings we want and we want to maintain vertical height so we can see the bluff and the river,” he said. “Or we want taller buildings located so they don’t obstruct the view.”

Carl Allen, director of economic development and planning for the City of Jackson, says the project will be a wonderful mixed-use area where people can live and work in the same area, something he thinks will especially appeal to young professionals.

“We’ve been in the planning and talking stage for a year and the city rezoned the area to accommodate for mixed-use,” he said. “I would like to see a scale of buildings that are pedestrian and walking friendly with sidewalks and landscaping and buildings a maximum of four to six stories high.”

Allen prefers a more traditional look but says the main thing is consistency. “I will be open minded about the design but I hope we have parking in the rear and sidewalks on the front like it used to be,” he said. “I’m confident it will happen. Everything is coming together.”

He will continue to be the city’s point person, making navigating the code system as painless as possible. A Jackson native who lived away for 20 years, he’s been back three years and believes “things are starting to blossom in Jackson, in spite of the naysayers.”

Lawrence and Turner acknowledge that because of the site’s difference in grade levels there are some restraints involved in design issues. Some parts of the area are at grade level and others are on a high bluff overlooking the Pearl River.

“There is a 25-foot grade change on Jefferson Street that is very conducive to putting in an underground parking garage,” Turner said. “The builders won’t have to move a lot of dirt or dig a hole for it, which is efficient from a design and construction standpoint.”

Planners are also studying the existing capacity for the district. “For instance, if there are 500 residential units there would be a need for more water and sewer,” Turner said. “The study should be complete soon. With any project the master developer finalizes the buildings they’ll put on a site.”

He said the first thing the public will see is basic infrastructure, a parking garage and water lines. “People won’t see anything for about four to six months but things are going on,” he said. “Then we’ll start breaking ground.

After 18 months, they will see vertical construction coming out of the ground. The design will come at that point from the master developer.”

Turner adds that the project is at a critical point, a milestone. “The only way we’ll be successful is for private and public entities to coordinate,” he said. “We find that is the key to success with these projects all over the country. It won’t happen without the commitment and cooperation of the community.”

This economic developer/engineer sees that cooperation taking place in Jackson. “That’s why I’m so optimistic,” he said. “There’s been tremendous support from all sectors; from the state legislature selling us the land the state owned to the city, county and private partners. This is a project for all of Mississippi.”

He said the project’s first phase involves four blocks of land owned by the state and Entergy and will focus on that for now. Private land will be involved in later phases.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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