JACKSON, Mississippi — Downtown’s long vacant Landmark Center is the preferred choice of the University of Mississippi’s Medical Center for a new workplace for around 300 information technology workers and other support staff, the Mississippi Business Journal first reported Wednesday.
The governing board of the Mississippi Institutes of Higher Learning would have to approve UMMC’s purchase of the 340,000 square-foot building, which is on the market at a discounted price of $7.6 million, down from $14 million in 2011. The IHL has not yet received a proposal for acquiring the building, an IHL spokeswoman said.
IHL’s policy makers, however, have been kept posted on the deal’s progress, said Dr. James E. Keeton, UMMC’s vice chancellor for Health Affairs. “The board and commissioner are aware that we are having these discussions,” he said in an email.
One downtown leader who put the transfer of workers at 300 employees said reports are that the IHL board is not fully sold on a deal for the Landmark.
The relocation of the UMMC workers would mark a significant turn of fortune for downtown Jackson after the disappointment of losing a competition last spring with Clinton’s South Pointe Business Park to become the new headquarters of the Mississippi Department of Revenue. “It would be tremendous for downtown,” said one commercial real estate broker.
It is not yet clear how much of the building’s space the UMMC employees would occupy.
Keeton said talks have centered on a purchase of the office building at 175 East Capitol Street rather than a long-term lease. “We do have an interest in the Landmark Center because we are in need of general office space for support staff as UMMC continues to grow,” he said.
The idea is to reserve space at the core campus at State Street and Lakeland Drive for patient care and research activities.
Some components of the medical center’s IT department would be moved into the Landmark, though Keeton emphasized the move would not be an actual consolidation of IT operations. Along with the IT workers, the move would include “some support staff from other locations, all yet to be determined,” he said.
AT&T was the Landmark’s principal tenant until it downsized into new space on Capitol Street in late 2011. The telecom and data processing capacity AT&T left behind helps to make the building attractive to UMMC, according to Keeton.
He said no estimates have been prepared on buildout costs, though he added: “The building does have infrastructure that lends itself to the support of IT operations.”
UMMC has about 250 IT workers at South Pointe, which workers are readying for the late spring move of the Department of Revenue. The DOR will require significant space for its approximate 500 workers and hundreds of daily visitors. Duckworth Realty, leasing agent for South Pointe, said UMMC has a long-term lease at South Pointe and its current space will be unaffected by the DOR relocation.
Most of the Medical Center’s IT workers are at the Medical Mall on Woodrow Wilson Avenue. A smaller group occupies space at the main Medical Center campus.
Downtown’s business and civic leaders have been eager to fill office vacancies that have lingered for several years for all but the highest-grade of Central Business District office properties. They see filling the empty space as a key component of injecting dollars into the shops, restaurants, hotels and other downtown businesses.
The UMMC relocation would most likely include medical records and health information technicians, an employee classification that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says earns about $32,350 a year. Another likely group of workers, computer systems administrators, makes around $69,000 a year, while workers in the related classification of computer systems analysts earn about $77,450, the BLS says.
Purchase talks are reported to have been under way for more than a year, paralleling the period in which the Landmark Center vied with South Pointe for the DOR headquarters.
“Dr. Keeton has made no secret of his interest in the Landmark,” said one Central Business District leader familiar with the talks.
Participants kept a lid on the talks, having taken “a blood oath” to stay quiet, the CBD leader said.
The Hertz Group, downtown’s dominant landlord having acquired One Jackson Place and other major properties, has an option to purchase the Landmark from New York’s U.S. Bancorp.