Meadowbrook McRae’s building sits mostly empty, but full of potential

The old McRae’s building on Meadowbrook Drive in Jackson has sat mostly vacant since 2005, save for a small clothing store and a cash advance place.

Just under 68,000 square feet of the total 86,000 square feet sits empty.

An advocacy organization for the Fondren neighborhood has renewed its hopes that development of the building could turn north Fondren’s business district into a mirror image of south Fondren’s, whose redevelopment has earned it a spot among the most desirable places to live and shop in the Metro area.

McRae’s had operated a store near the intersection of Meadowbrook and State Street since 1955 before its closing. Mary Jo McAnally, associate director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, said last week that the building’s open space could be the catalyst to turn north Fondren into a warehouse district similar to those in Dallas and New Orleans.

The building and its potential redevelopment were one of the topics thrown around during a FRF “green light thinking” session in late September.

“So many things have been thrown around for that building,” she said. “Historically, we just haven’t found anybody with the money to develop that big a space. I’ve worked here for 14 years, and I’ve always wanted to turn that area into a warehouse district. I think it’s perfectly suited. But because we’ve never found one person to take that project on, I’ve always wished the owners of that property would let different people rent it for a short period of time.”

Atlanta-based Redd Realty owns the building. Redd vice president of leasing William Lybrook said last week that the company routinely entertains interest from retail and office users. “But we’ve had no luck with the space,” he said. “We’re considering controlled air storage, but also have some possible medical prospects. We have received a lot of interest from several churches, as well. We could sell or lease the building.”

McAnally and groups like the FRF have tried to come to an agreement with Redd where tenants could sign short-term leases — say, for three months — that would serve as a kind of test run for the building and the area around it. So far, no agreement has been reached that would allow that. Building ownership did allow the use of the building for a white elephant sale a few years ago, but nothing similar has been allowed since, McAnally said, due to the expense of providing electricity and heating and cooling a space that large.

“Somebody’s not going to sign a 15-year lease on that building if they’re not sure that the area is stable,” McAnally said. “There are so many seasonal things that could work there. Artists could sell pottery, oriental rugs, you name it. The holidays could open up a world of possibilities. And then you establish a pattern of not only drawing residents to that building, but people connected to whatever is being sold there — decorators, contractors and the like.

“There could be a pull,” McAnally continued. “I think if we could ever get a group to do something like that, I think it would work. It wouldn’t be a long-term commitment. You start the pattern, and begin taking baby steps. I just can’t get that idea out of my head. I’m telling you, a short-term lease where the tenant would change periodically would work. I’m convinced of it.”

The traffic flow in front of the buildings is heavy at rush hour, and steady throughout the day. Meadowbrook is one of Jackson’s oldest and most-traveled east-west arteries. “They’re going right past that empty building. They could be going right past someone’s business,” McAnally said.

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