Downtown Jackson leaders believe things have never been better for business district
On the surface, it would appear that downtown Jackson is booming.
There’s the opening of the Jackson Convention Complex and on-going restoration of the King Edward Hotel, both considered anchors of the city’s resurgence after years of playing second-fiddle to the mega-growth occurring in Madison and Rankin counties.
Underneath, however, it might also appear to some that, in stark contrast to the robust new construction and development in downtown Jackson, there is a less-than-healthy picture of the city’s office space market. Forty percent of all Central Mississippi office space is located in the 66-block downtown district.
Companies large and small have been moving out of the city to suburban environs for several years.
Regions Bank, Butler Snow and HORNE LLP are next on a growing list of businesses that have decided to move their operations outside the City of Jackson. Among the largest to leave was Cellular South a couple of years ago, leaving some to wonder which company might be next – and can downtown survive with an abundance of prime office space lying dormant?
Absolutely, says John Gomez, associate director of Downtown Jackson Partners, a non-profit organization that has been actively working to retain and expand businesses, as well as attract new ones to the Capital City.
“Actually, things look more promising than they did four years ago,” said Gomez. “The opening of the Pinnacle was the first time in 20 years that downtown had opened new office space. It’s had a steady 80-85 percent occupancy rate since it opened.”
Matt Forsyth, leasing manager for Parkway Properties, concurs with Gomez’s assessment. Based in downtown Jackson, Parkway Properties is a real estate investment trust specializing in office properties.
“We have finally reached a point where tangible signs of a long-awaited renaissance are visible all across the downtown area, and people want to be a part of it,” he said. “If I were a professional firm or retail business owner, I’d be compelled to consider a location with over $2 billion in surrounding office, residential and retail development.
“This is the most exciting time for downtown Jackson in recent memory, especially now that you can see, feel and touch the momentum. It’s real.”
The Pinnacle at One Jackson Place broke ground in June 2007 and was completed in late 2008. A project of Parkway Properties, the nine-story, ultra-modern office building situated at the corner of Capital and Lamar streets is one of the keys to Jackson’s downtown revival, said Forsyth.
“The Pinnacle is a great property with a terrific working environment,” Forsyth said. “We are focused on downtown and all the great things going on. The landscape in Jackson is changing and that’s a real positive.”
Forsyth points to the opening of the Jackson Convention Complex earlier this year as a sign of the city’s rebirth.
“The opening of the Convention Complex has spawned the upcoming development of the Capital City Convention Center across the street,” he said. “That will include a 300-room convention center hotel, a 125-room limited-service hotel, a 200-unit apartment building, two parking facilities and 25,000 square feet of new retail to the downtown area.”
Apparently, an overabundance of office space has not diminished the underlying strength and vitality of the downtown Jackson real estate business. The oversupply of office space could transfer advantages and opportunities from landlord to potential corporate tenant in terms of lower rent.
Gomez believes that some companies that made the decision to leave downtown four or five years ago may be having regrets now.
“With all the wonderful development occurring, including the completion of the Convention Complex and the (on-going) King Edward Hotel project, I think it’s going to make our job easier to retain businesses,” he said. “There are advantages to having offices in downtown Jackson, and I do believe that eventually we will be able to ‘back-fill’ those empty (office) spaces.”
“The fact is that we will start to see a trend to ‘come back to Jackson,’ so to speak,” he said. “Downtown has comparably low crime rates, a centralized commute for employees across the metro area and a ‘captive audience’ of roughly 29,000 potential customers each day.”
Having an office downtown is appealing to some business owners, Gomez says.
“There are many advantages to having a business located downtown as opposed to a suburban setting, “ he said. “The most obvious is, of course, you would be centrally located. Plus, we have 30-plus restaurants and cultural attractions within a 70-block radius that appeal to a wide-variety of people.”
Forsyth is optimistic that the decade-long trend of leaving downtown Jackson for the suburbs is over. In fact, he says, the trend is reversing.
“I think more businesses are choosing to locate in downtown today than we have seen in a very long time,” he said. “Your paper (Mississippi Business Journal) is an example, as is the Ramey Agency, that once left downtown for the suburbs and is back.
“This will continue as more and more businesses realize what is happening in the heart of their Capital City.”
By NASH NUNNERY I STAFF WRITER
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