Business Improvement District seen as possible Rx for County Line Road retail
by Ted Carter
Published: October 4,2013
A BID would create ‘a city within a city,’ Ridgeland community development chief says
Ridgeland and Jackson economic development planners are taking a hard look at ways to inject new vitality into the County Line Road retail corridor shared by the two cities.
A Business Improvement District, or BID, is among the options under study for a shopping district that will soon lose a Sam’s Club on the west end and a Kroger supermarket on the east end.
The BID established for Ridgeland’s Colony Park area has helped to make the corridor an inviting retail destination and could prove effective for County Line, said Alan Hart, Ridgeland’s director of community development.
Commercial property owners within a proposed Business Improvement District would have to vote to tax themselves for infrastructure improvements and joint promotional efforts. Hart said he thinks a multi-jurisdictional BID could be established that would take in the Ridgeland side of County Line on the north and the Jackson side to the south.
“We met this morning with top officials of the city of Jackson,” Hart said Monday. “Our leadership and their leadership are committed to that corridor.”
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said in an interview Monday that he would welcome “any effort with the city of Ridgeland that was not abusive of taxes to develop that area.”
A number of things make sense to look at in the way of joint efforts, Lumumba said.
Hart said he thinks perceptions of the health of County Line Road’s retail do not fully match a reality in which owners of commercial property say they are getting higher lease rates than previously.
However, he added, “It’s going to take some time” for sustained improvement to occur and conceded businesses along the corridor “are nervous.”
“They hear the rumors that the sky is falling,” Hart said.
But they must not lose sight of the corridor’s potential, he added.
County Line Road is still “a very positive location,” with nearby areas of Jackson serving as employment centers and ample rooftops in nearby Ridgeland neighborhoods, he noted.
A Business Improvement District could help the corridor develop its potential, Hart said. “They should explore the idea of a BID.”
With a BID, property owners would jointly set their priorities for infrastructure work, including landscaping, and would develop joint marketing campaigns. “It would have an elected governing body,” Hart said. “It would be a city within a city,” or more precisely a city within two cities.
A BID would create interest in County Line Road among developers such as Comvest Properties, a Biloxi retail development firm that specializes in rehabilitating aging shopping plazas, said D. Brooks Holstein, Comvest managing member.
“The only way we would look seriously at County Line Road is re were some sort of enterprise zones for incentives,” Holstein said.
If something is not done, “you will see a tremendous amount of deterioration of retail along the road,” he said.
Hart attributes a lot of County Line’s image problems to a false perception that Northpark Mall is failing.
Indeed, Holstein said he thinks a loss of “leading edge tenants” has made the mall “vulnerable to relocation.”
Added Holstein, “I think the challenges are two things: Retail shifting into very distinctive nodes and Madison County and Rankin County. Unfortunately, Ridgeland is getting squeezed by its proximity to Jackson.”
To the contrary, argued Hart, Northpark is 98 percent full and is removing some smaller tenants to make room for a pair of large tenants. “They are on the heels of a couple of really big announcements,” he said, predicting the announcements “will be game changers.”
Before retail developments went up along Colony Park and the Flowood stretch of Lakeland Drive, Ridgeland initiated efforts to enhance County Line Road’s retail appeal, Hart said.
The city first tackled the image issue in 2006 and the conventional wisdom that reaching the mall and other shopping destinations would take 15 minutes in non-holiday periods and 30 minutes during the post-Thanksgiving to Christmas period. “The mayor brought in an engineer who used a stopwatch that showed six minutes normally and 15 minutes” in the holiday period, Hart said.
Another effort addressed what Hart called the “chaotic environment” of the corridor by persuading businesses to adopt a set of five “calming” colors and improve their landscaping, he said.
Subsequently, Jackson City Planner Bennie Hopkins persuaded his city to adopt similar design standards. “We gave him the colors we like to see,” Hart said.
Hart said he is optimistic all Mississippi retail will soon get a boost from the assessing of a state tax on Internet sales. Though legislators have rejected the idea in past sessions, he thinks a majority will come around in 2014. “I have heard they are very receptive,” he said.
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