Clarksdale’s new fixed-up look has a familiar face

January 22, 2012

Economic Development

Ground Zero Blues Club

Ten years after setting out to add a spark to downtown Clarksdale’s revitalization with the opening of the Madidi restaurant and Ground Zero Blues Club, Bill Luckett likes what he sees.

“I’m very excited. There’s a lot of development of downtown Clarksdale going on now,” says Luckett, who figures he and business partner Morgan Freeman, the Academy Award winning actor, have achieved what they set out to do.

“Tourists are just pouring into Clarksdale now, especially on the blues side,” Luckett says.

With Clarksdale’s Central Business District on a growth curve and cemented as an entertainment district, now is a good time to put the Madidi up for sale, he says.

“Eight restaurants have opened here since we opened the Madidi. It has just spawned a revitalization of downtown.”

As director of the public-private partnership Clarksdale Revitalization Inc., Mac Crank is helping downtown Clarksdale fix up an old face to attract new life. “Downtown is starting to come back to life,” he says, listing a new coffee-and-sandwich Internet cafe, eclectic gourmet fast food store, a fish and steak restaurant and an upscale pizza place and bar, among others.

“We’ve finished 12 historic restorations,” he says, describing many of them as exterior facelifts that are returning the buildings to the way they looked in the 1920s and ’30s.

Not all attractions have gone through fix-ups – and that’s intentional. For instance, Red’s Lounge is one of the last of the urban juke joints and looks every bit the part, Crank says.

“You’ll see more people at Red’s than you will Madidi. If you pass it and didn’t know what was there you wouldn’t go in. It’s for hard core blues.”

Some of the granddaddy restoration projects include the circa 1915 Alcazar Hotel on Third Street, the 7-story McWilliams building, the Marion Theatre and the city’s Civic Auditorium.

Crank says his office is working on a development package for restoration of the Vaudeville Theater, “an 8-digit project.”

Federal New Market Tax Credits and state and federal historic restoration tax credits help the downtown facelifts and restorations along. The pace of the work has been “fairly aggressive,” Crank says.

This is possible, he says, because a restoration costing, say, $10 million can receive New Market Tax Credits of about $3.5 million.

In all, about $50 million has gone into the restorations, according to Crank.

As with most all central business districts, Clarksdale’s downtown has its professional offices, government buildings and retail shops.

But the work in progress, Crank says, is to grow downtown as a “cultural and visitor center.”

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