Restoration developers pursue more downtown Jackson success
The New Orleans historic restoration company that helped to bring Jackson’s King Edward Hotel and Standard Life Building back to life has returned to the Capital City to transform a row of circa 1928 storefronts across the street from the King Edward into urban lofts.
HRI Properties expects to begin work on the $20 million Capitol Art Lofts in February and complete conversion of the strip of seven storefronts that include Lott Furniture by the end of 2014. The plan is to turn about 31,000 square feet of mostly unused retail space into 31 moderate-income loft apartments marketed to Jackson’s arts and medical communities, said Josh Collen, vice president for development, in a presentation last week.
HRI teamed with local developer David Watkins to restore the King Edward, now a Hilton Garden Inn hotel, and Standard Life. The development company continues to manage the properties.
This time around, HRI is partnering with Alan Ballard Henderson, a partner at BlackWhite Real Estate Development in Jackson. The project, said Henderson, “is perfect for the creative economy” foundation that Jackson is seeking to develop.
“We’re planting the seeds for Jackson to grow something from the ground up – not the top down,” Henderson added.
HRI and Henderson are counting on historic tax credits and about $10 million in financing from the Mississippi Home Corporation, a state entity that works with private and non-profit entries to provide affordable housing. HRI expects to know in October whether it will receive the Home Corporation funding.
As part of its pledge for the funding, HRI promises to maintain the project as affordable residential apartments for 40 years, according to Collen.
Of the 31 apartments, 28 will be one bedroom lofts of about 800 square feet renting for around $550 a month. The remaining units will be two-bedroom and will go for about $700 a month.
Space will also be devoted to a fitness center, an artist work space, and a common events area. The recently-renovated-but-vacant Cohen Brothers storefront will remain as is and is not part of the project, according to HRI’s Collen.
A major presence on the block, Lott Furniture, has given up its space for the project, he added.
Tenant and visitor parking is planned for the rear of the Capitol Art Lofts.
The 31-year-old HRI Properties has won acclaim for pioneering neighborhood development that includes the Warehouse District in New Orleans and the Historic Post Office District in St. Louis. Its work also includes about $1 billion in Go-zone (Gulf Opportunity Zone) projects since hurricane Katrina.
In total, HRI has done about 20 development projects over the last two decades, Collen said.
The development executive said the expectation is for the Capitol Art Lofts to help bring a resurgence of retail to the 200 block of West Capital Street. “We hope when we fix this place up and generate some activity this strip will be attractive to retailers,” Collen said, and noted he hopes to bring retail activity to his end of Capital Street in much the same way the Parlor Market and Mayflower have a short distance up Capital.
Whatever uncertainties surround the project, market demand for downtown Jackson rental units is not among them, Collen said. Apartments at King Edward and Standard Life have stayed full, he said, and added he expects the same for any new rental projects downtown.
“We have seen very good demand for downtown living in downtown Jackson,” he said.
HRI sees Jackson’s downtown as having “all the potential in the world” for development of office, retail and residential, Collen added. “We would encourage the state and local governments to invest in it.”
Ben Allen, president of downtown promotional group Downtown Jackson Partners, said the lofts project is a good example of how one development projects leads to others. “I don’t think they would be doing this if they didn’t have the King Edward and Standard Life down the street,” he said at the unveiling of the Capitol Art Lofts plans.
Jackson architect Robert Polk is a veteran of downtown apartment development, having converted four-floor Dickies Garment Factory at 736 President Street into 15 apartments in 2008.
He hesitates when asked if he would tackle a similar project using historic tax credits as he did with the Dickies building. “With certain conditions, yes. Just not the same way,” he said.
Downtown urgently needs residential space but it is an “uphill battle” to get the banks to understand the viability of such projects, Polk said. “There is so much education that is involved.”
Projects like the Capitol Art Lofts are “the future of Jackson. They have got to get downtown living established. I just wish there were more folks like Ben Allen [of Downtown Jackson Partners) with the same ideas” that he has.
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