Project ‘Taylor-made’

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Published: October 29,2007

The road to Taylor is a narrow, winding two-lane blacktop. In fact, it ends in the small Lafayette County community six miles south of Oxford.

If Southern Living magazine has its way, however, few people in its extensive circulation area — the Southern U.S. — won’t know where Taylor is after next summer.

A half-mile past Taylor on an even more narrow county road brings you to Plein Air, a fledgling, upstart housing and retail development that will be home to the Southern Living Idea House, one of three planned for 2008. The other two, which makes pretty good company for tiny Taylor, are in Ft. Worth and Asheville, N.C.

A press conference on the Plein Air commons October 18 unveiled the coming project. Officials from Taylor and Lafayette County, executives from Birmingham-based Southern Living and Plein Air co-owners Campbell McCool and Stewart Speed addressed a small group gathered for the event.

“We met Stewart and we met Campbell and we just couldn’t say no,” said Kristen Payne, director of the Southern Living Homes Group. The Plein Air home, said Payne, will be featured in the August 2008 issue of Southern Living, along with the other two homes.

Payne said after the formal presentation that the Taylor Idea House, the first ever in Mississippi (the magazine has been building Idea Houses for nearly 20 years) is an excellent opportunity for suppliers to showcase their goods to potential buyers.

Some of those suppliers are Pella windows, James Hardy siding products, which will supply a new fiber-concrete siding product, and other high-quality materials.

“We hope that visitors find some ideas they can use,” said Payne. She said the magazine’s ultimate mission is to gain publicity for its various enterprises.

Closer to home, there is optimism that Southern Living will put Taylor, known as an artists’ colony, on the map; as many as 300-400 people per day are expected to pay $5-$6 admission to see the house during its three-month opening in March, June and July.

“The growth here,” said Johnny Morgan, president of the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors, “is because of the quality of life we have afforded people.”

Taylor, indeed, has seen some growth as Oxford moves southward, said Taylor Mayor Jim Hamilton.

Speed and McCool said the 72-acre development will eventually comprise approximately 200 homes and up to a dozen commercial buildings housing 30-40 businesses. One building under construction will house Emileigh’s Café and Tin Pan Alley Antiques, according to signs sitting at the front of the shells.

Based on the proliferating New Urbanism concept of communities integrated with services, retail and residential, Plein Air will also eventually include eight parks and other green spaces.

“All life’s necessities are within walking distance,” Speed explained. “It’s a real community, an old-fashioned neighborhood.”

McCool values highly the amount of publicity his development will receive from Southern Living. “It literally could not be bought, but is worth $2-3 million. People kill for these (Idea Houses). Developments around the Southeast lobby for these.”

Speed said six Plein Air houses have been finished, with three sold. Four more are under construction. The Idea House foundation was under construction in mid-October.

The Idea House, which will be offered for sale after next summer’s event, said Speed, “Is a little bigger and a little more expensive” than the other Plein Air offerings. The typical Plein Air house ranges in price from approximately $190,000 to the upper $200,000s. They are 1,500-2,200 square feet and sit on lots approximately 50×100 feet.

“The homes are simple shapes you would see in any Mississippi community,” said Atlanta-based architect John Tee, who has designed some Plein Air houses and was tapped to draw the Idea House.

Of course, Speed and McCool have been keeping a close eye on the economy, even as they hope Southern Living will put Plein Air on the map and help them sell homes: “Nobody, including us,” said Speed, “is immune from the current downturn in the national housing market.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer C. Richard Cotton at rcotton4@earthlink.com .

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