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Riverwalk a project we can’t afford to skimp on

March 25th, 2010

When Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson gets the keys to the car that is the Jackson Riverwalk, be sure it is him that will decide whether that car is a Rolls Royce or a Yugo.
In a story in this edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, staff writer Clay Chandler talks with Jackson developer David Watkins who came up with the ambitious project that would feature a mile-long, concrete-lined canal that starts at Farish Street and ends at Court Street, where it would empty into a 35-acre lake that connected to the Pearl River.
Watkins, who developed the renovated Hotel King Edward and who is currently renovating the Standard Life Building, said then he hoped to turn the project over to the City of Jackson and its redevelopment authority within 30 days, which would have been the middle part of January, which still hasn’t happened.
But, Watkins says he is ready to hand the project over to the city and he believes something will be happening with it in the next five years — even saying the project could be near completion.
Wait a minute. Is this just a pie-in-the-sky notion that will never happen?
That’s what a lot of folks said when Watkins rescued the King Edward Hotel.
That’s what a lot of folks said when he got involved in the Standard Life Building.
Far be it for me to call David Watkins a hero, but the man has a track record of making the unthinkable happen.
You won’t read words in these pages that doubt David Watkins.
If his vision can be seen through to the end, the face of Jackson will be changed forever.
If Mayor Johnson can find a way to make this happen, he will be viewed as the mayor who put Jackson on par with some of the great small cities in America.
In our story this week, Clay Chandler writes about the financial burden that Jackson has. The city, as he points out, is in the middle of a nosedive in tax collections that have forced leaders to make some politically unpopular decisions and is just starting to cause some workers at multiple levels of government to lose their jobs.
And the city’s involvement in the $300-million project is nonnegotiable, Watkins told the MBJ, because there will have to be public financing, probably in the form of bonds, to pull it off.
But this is the project that Johnson cannot afford to pass on. This is the game changer.
This project, if done correctly, will turn the tide on “white flight” and make Jackson a destination for everyone in Mississippi as well as so many others throughout the Southeast and across the nation.
Good luck, Mayor Johnson. The keys are in your hands.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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