MAKEOVER: Plans finalized for street upgrades in Fondren Business District

Image Credit: Find It In Fondren.

Fondren’s business district will soon undergo beautification and traffic-calming work designed to make it more pedestrian-friendly and bring parts of the area into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The work is part of a $2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the City of Jackson contributing $500,000 in matching funds.

Construction is scheduled to start in late spring 2013 and take between four and five months. Jackson engineering firm Neel-Schaffer designed the upgrades.

“There were two main reasons why that project was envisioned,” said Neel-Schaffer’s Mark Beyea. “Beautification is one, and improved pedestrian access is the other one. The traffic-calming goes along with that.”

The beautification part will include streetscapes at the intersections of State and Duling streets, Old Canton Road and Lakeland Drive, and State and Mitchell streets that will make each less of a hazard for pedestrians and bike traffic. Several streets will be narrowed, and parking will be added, Beyea said. Among the priorities will be adding and widening sidewalks, and bringing existing sidewalks in line with ADA by adding access ramps. “There are a lot of areas that are not in compliance,” Beyea said. New signs identifying the neighborhood’s boundaries are also planned.

Work on similar upgrades and improvements on Fortification Street in Jackson started over the summer, and is expected to be completed in 2014. That project also includes major repaving work, which is not included in the Fondren project. Similar work was scheduled to start on Jackson’s Capitol Street in early November, but was delayed.

The streetscapes, upgraded light poles, signs, sidewalks and expanded bike lanes that give a neighborhood its own branding identity have become popular, especially in older neighborhoods like Fondren and Belhaven, Beyea said.

“It’s definitely a trend,” he said.

It’s a trend Brad Reeves, who own’s Fondren landmark Brent’s Drugs, is happy to see materialize outside his restaurant that specializes in hamburgers and malts.

“I really think it’s the natural step in Fondren’s evolution” as a revitalized historic neighborhood, he said. “I like the idea that the signs will kind of let people know when they’re in Fondren. You hear about it, but some people may not actually know where it is or what the boundaries are. The name recognition of the neighborhood will put a lot of value into those signs.”

Fondren was one of the first areas to be annexed by the City of Jackson as the downtown area and central business district grew. As such, it’s one of the older neighborhoods in the city, and much of the infrastructure aesthetics haven’t changed much in the last half-century or so.

“One of the things that made Fondren unique is it was an older neighborhood,” Reeves said. “The flip side of that is there is a lot of stuff that had never been cleaned up. This does that.”

Even minor construction like what is scheduled to start next spring, can be bad for business in the affected areas. Reeves admits that it won’t be as easy to get to Brent’s with the work going on, but doesn’t think it will be a major issue because of the long-term benefits of making the area more accommodating to pedestrians.

Jason Meeks, who owns SE Lock and Key on State Street, is cautiously optimistic about the project’s benefits. He’s excited about some of the upgrades, “especially the sidewalk components related to handicap access.

“ We do hope the designers understand that any parking places removed will have an adverse effect on all business, especially in the strip area,” Meeks said. “I would hope everyone understands that we would rather have more parking than decorative shrubbery. We also hope that construction has a minimal impact on our customers’ ability to get to us.”

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