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MBJ Editorial: ‘GO-80’ could be roadmap to region’s revival

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson is thinking big with his “Go-80” strategy, an expansive blueprint for generating tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue through redeveloping Jackson’s nine-mile U.S. 80 corridor from the Pearl River to the Clinton city limits.

It’s an investment strategy in need of deep pockets that Jackson does not have at the moment.

But Mayor Johnson is insisting he can keep the momentum going without cash, or at least much of it. With the City Council’s backing, he can initiate land-use elements of the Go-80 strategy.

Absent the land-use changes, the entire plan stays on a shelf awaiting some future group of progress-minded leaders to carry it out. And in the meantime, Jackson sees a further languishing of an important corridor and increased erosion of a badly needed tax base.

That’s why it is vital that the council take the plan seriously and look closely at the benefits it can potentially bring.

Development of Mr. Johnson’s land-use blueprint has come through the efforts of the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District with the help of city economic development staff. Stakeholders, including business owners and residents alike, participated in the planning as well. The stakeholders also will have a significant hand in the fine-tuning the strategy receives in the months ahead.

As reported by the MBJ a few weeks ago, the new year marks the launch of Mr. Johnson’s U.S. 80 transformation strategy. Step one — the land-use designations — is set to go: It’s “highly possible” that part of the strategy can be completed in the coming year, Mayor Johnson says.

The council will need firm resolve to carry out some elements of the land-use transformation, starting with a ban on new pawnshops, payday loan businesses, strip clubs and other adult entertainment venues. Current ones could remain under a grandfather provision.

Council members will be told that as businesses move out, the kinds on the prohibited-list could be the only ones willing to occupy the buildings. Unoccupied buildings lead to blight and — most importantly — don’t contribute to the city’s economic well-being.

To counter, city leaders must show they intend to make steady progress on the Go-80 strategy and that landowners will be the big beneficiaries once the transformation is underway.

The center piece of the strategy is to convert the Metrocenter Mall and the 80 acres it occupies to mixed-use, a move designed to give a developer the flexibility of including residential, hotel, office and entertainment uses along with retail. Planners say the mall is key because it drives customer traffic throughout the U.S. 80 corridor.

Planners are hoping for some new customer drivers as well. They think this can be achieved through development of “concept” sites.

They envision a half-dozen specific locations such as the Metrostation property south of the mall, the former Coca Cola plant and the defunct Show Town West Drive-in Theater being designated for redevelopment under the “concept” plans that have been prepared for each location.

Add in the mayor’s proposals for transportation improvements and upgrades to infrastructure such as water and sewer, natural gas and telecommunications and you see why he calls it “a very expansive redevelopment plan.”

Jackson put a key part of its U.S. 80 revival effort into place with the November designation of the corridor as an Urban Renewal Zone.  The Jackson Redevelopment Authority, governed by a seven-member commission, promotes and administers urban renewal projects.

The Authority can buy and tear down blighted property, can use federal dollars for cleaning brownfield sites and has the power to invoke eminent domain, or the taking of private property.

The mayor and other city officials are looking to public-private partnerships as an effective way to leverage the corridor’s assets, chief among them the Metrocenter Mall and the dozens of acres surrounding it.

The Urban Renewal Zone, private-sector partnerships and even a targeted redevelopment fund have promise in the long-term plan to revive the U.S. 80 corridor.

But Jackson can’t begin to transform the corridor from dormant to vibrant without the changes in land uses Mayor Johnson will seek over the next few weeks.

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