Optimism about Jackson’s future underpins new projects

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Published: December 24,2007

Excitement and enthusiasm. That’s the mood of many in Jackson’s business community after a busy 2007. The Capital City is on an upswing with new construction and developments and revitalization in progress downtown and beyond.

“The best thing is the explosion of economic activity, highlighted by the re-birth of the King Edward (hotel) and the Pinnacle,” said Ben Allen, president of Downtown Jackson Partners. “Our biggest challenge is to show and prove to the state that her Capital City is on sound footing for the future, to press on, to have pride in her, and to not allow our beautiful, friendly, wonderful city to be defined by the reprehensible behavior of a small group of lawbreakers. We need to be all that we can be and we will.”

Jackson businessman and former director of the Mississippi Development Authority Leland Speed also used the word ‘explosion’ to describe the city’s growth and development.

“There’s more construction going on in the city than I can ever remember,” he said. “The projects start at the edge of the Jackson State University campus and are in all areas of the city. In the last four years, we’ve had $29 million each year in non-residential permits. My expectation is that Jackson’s building will exceed Madison and Ridgeland combined.”

He referenced the new federal courthouse under construction at Congress and Court streets as the largest pour in the history of Jackson Redi-Mix Concrete. The facility will have 350,000 square feet of public office space.

Another large project underway downtown is the Pinnacle at Capitol and Lamar streets and part of the Jackson Place complex which takes up an entire block. Lee Nations, vice president of Parkway Properties, is serving as project manager.

“This limestone and glass building will have 194,000 square feet of class A office space. It’s a very, very high end product,” he said. “We poured the sixth floor of nine stories this month and are making good progress.”

Parkway Properties has one more parcel on the block. The developer is also renovating the parking garage at Jackson Place. Nations said the $5 million renovation project will give the garage all the things users expect from class A space, including security, lights and cameras.

“The city owns the garage. We entered a 90-year lease to operate and improve it as we see fit,” he said.

Nations says the city is easy to do business with and has recognized the need to be development friendly. “The city and the city council have been cooperative; it’s been a good experience,” he said. “As good as 2007 has been, I think even more will happen in 2008. The central business district is really looking up.”

Jackson, like other cities, is trying to entice more people to live downtown. Nations said Parkway Properties hopes to find a residential developer to partner with them at Jackson Place.

Several residential loft facilities are under renovation now including the Library Lofts at State and Yazoo streets and the Foundry Lofts on West South Street. Realtor Mike Peters and owner Crymes Pittman recently opened the Tombigbee Lofts at the corner of Tombigbee and State streets. The first tenants moved in on Dec. 1 and eight of the twelve residences are rented.

“They are pretty good size and are perfect for professional types,” Peters said.

Peters, who says working in Jackson is easier and less restrictive than doing development in the suburbs, is also proud of the completed Plaza Building on North Congress Street. The building’s 14 apartments and 70,000 square feet of office space are already occupied, and there are two restaurants on the ground level.

“Opening the Plaza Building was a big milestone for 2007,” he said. “The restaurants are Basil’s and Koi, an Asian fusion restaurant and bar. They’re both doing great.”

Ben Allen points out other renovation and building going on downtown, saying there is $2.1 billion being spent with three-fourths of it in private projects.

“The public and private money that’s being spent in the city shows confidence in Jackson,” he said. “It’s been an extremely good year. Many of the events we were whispering about are now happening. The Standard Life Building and the King Edward Hotel are underway.”

The Downtown Jackson Partners are working to bring the National Civil Rights Museum to the downtown area. Three of the five sites on the short list are in downtown Jackson with a fourth site at Tougaloo College.

“The site selection committee will be coming to Jackson in January for a tour of all four locations, and we will know something shortly after that,” he said.

Allen says the Farish Street development is moving frustratingly slow, which he attributes to it being a government-driven project. “This is probably because the synergy around it is slower than expected, but about to take off at light speed,” he said. “It will succeed as soon as some of these hotel/office/apartment projects come online.”

Ross Tucker, executive director of the Metro Jackson Economic Development Alliance, lists economic development projects that contributed to 2007 being a good year for the city. Those include the Office Depot Distribution Center that hired 200 people out of 700 applicants and the technical expansion of CFS Collegiate Funding Services that located a customer service center in the city, bringing 600 more jobs.

“They share a building with Comcast which announced a new advanced solutions center this year. Also, a new convention center is being built, and the Old Capitol Green project is acquiring property and getting engineering done for site preparation,” he said. “Another expansion is the FBI headquarters for Mississippi which will have state-of-the-art equipment. It’s been started on Echelon Parkway.”

Two of Jackson’s historic neighborhoods, Fondren and Belhaven, had a good year too. Both gained new businesses in 2007 to add to their mix of residential and commercial areas. They are the only urban Main Street programs in Mississippi.

In Belhaven, Mike Peters re-did the old Brent/Parkins Drug building on Fortification and turned it into Basil’s Belhaven that he describes as “a really cool neighborhood restaurant and deck.”

Kat’s Wine Cellar moved into a new building on Fortification after operating for many years in the basement of Finean’s Pub. “It’s a state-of-the-art, beautiful building,” said Virgi Lindsey, director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation. “They really thought things through.”

She said Belhaven’s business growth and development is along its major corridors of Fortification and North State streets where there are restaurants, bars, a grocery, two drug stores, a liquor store and a dry cleaners. New construction is rare in Belhaven but 24 new condominiums on North Street opened this year. They were built on a parcel of land where a house burned and two others that were dilapidated were torn down.

“We do have some new construction on rare, vacant parcels,” Lindsey said. “We’re trying to preserve history in Belhaven and we’re serious about that.”

The foundation launched a website in October and continues the Greater Belhaven Market every Saturday from April through December, rain or shine. Lindsey said the market had an incredible year, even turning away vendors.

Mollie and Larry Gregory bought a home on Pinehurst Street a year and a half ago where they are raising their children. It was a natural for Mollie who grew up on Fairview Street.

“We love Belhaven and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said. “There’s such a wonderful assortment of people who live here and everyone is friendly and looks out for each other. It’s truly a special place.”

Charles Richardson became executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation last April and says he’s most proud of the three new businesses that have opened on the west side of State Street since he came. Those are Sal & Mookie’s, a gourmet pizzeria where everything is made from scratch; the Shoe Bar at Pieces carrying designer shoes and accessories; and Energy in Motion, a physical fitness center.

“The Foundation worked to create an overlay district of residences and retail,” he said. “These three are the first ones to make that commercial jump on that side of the street. We’re hoping to announce more new places soon,” he said.

Additionally, Fondren gained about ten new residential units in 2007 and lots of individual homes. Other new town homes will break ground in ‘08, and the Foundation hopes to get funding for a park at Northview and Dunbar streets that’s been in the works for several years.

Work is progressing well at Fondren Place in the old Duling School building. Developer Mike Peters says the facility will open in the spring with a mixture of occupants.

“The foundation will continue to sponsor art shows, symphony concerts and cultural events throughout the year,” Richardson said. “Each event is free and open to the public, drawing a wide range from all over Jackson to shop and dine in Fondren.”

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

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