The District at Eastover, a $110 million mixed-use development on the site of Jackson’s Old Blind School, appears to have cleared one of its last major hurdles.
In late August, the Jackson City Council approved a zoning request from developer Ted Duckworth that would allow for a combination of retail, office space, residential units and a hotel to be built on the 20-acre site.
Duckworth, president and CEO of Duckworth Realty, is under contract to purchase the property from the state, with plans to close by year’s end. Within six months of that, he hopes to start construction of the District’s first phase.
The development’s road to near-reality has been rocky. Legislation passed in the 2008 session authorized Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann to negotiate lease terms with interested developers. Duckworth was the only developer who responded to a request for proposals, but Duckworth and Hosemann couldn’t agree to lease terms, and the project stalled. In 2010, lawmakers amended the 2008 bill to include an option to buy the property, something Duckworth had favored from the beginning. He again was the only respondent to a RFP, and he and the state Department of Finance and Administration came to an agreement on a purchase price and signed a contract on the property earlier this year. The purchase price will remain confidential until closing.
Contract in hand, Duckworth and his team can focus on finalizing the project’s details, and begin negotiating with potential retail and office tenants, he said.
Jackson-based engineering firm Neel-Schaffer has completed a traffic study to determine if traffic lights will be needed at the development’s frontage road entrance and the Eastover Drive entrance. Breck Hines, executive vice president of Duckworth Realty, said signal poles are already in place, and the city of Jackson has granted permission to “resignalize” them if need be.
If all goes as planned and Duckworth and the state close on the property by year’s end, the first phase of construction would include the state’s obligation to tear down the former Old Blind School’s director’s residence and build a new one, and to demolish a bus maintenance facility.
“The first phase would be concurrent with bringing the existing structures down,” Hines said. Duckworth said he’s “still juggling” exactly what will make up the project’s first phase. It will most likely include the 80,000 square-foot hotel and some combination of the retail and office space.
“We’re thinking the soonest we could get anything open is fall 2013,” Duckworth said. Total build-out for the project would fall between seven and 10 years, and would include 200,000 square feet of retail space and 125,000 square feet of office space. “The gestation for projects like this is four or five years,” Duckworth said. “We’re hopeful with the office component particularly that there’s pent-up demand. If we’re talking 2014 or 2015 (before) delivering any significant office space, there’s not going to be any new space built anywhere else in town before then. This should be the next growth area for office space in Metro Jackson.”
Said Hines: “Last year was the lowest (rate of) office and retail construction in the U.S. in four years. From that perspective, the supply perspective, it’s certainly slowed down. At some point people are going to look up and there’s not going to be a lot of supply left. You hope to deliver when the economy’s in an upswing. We hope we’re on the front-end of that.”
Both the office and retail space will require pre-leasing, Duckworth said. The larger portions of the office space, ideally, would be used by what Hines called “institutional class” tenants – law firms, financial services companies, insurance companies and possibly some medical companies.
Duckworth hopes to snag a handful of anchor tenants for the retail side.
“We think four or five key restaurants, in specific categories, things that aren’t already in Jackson,” Duckworth said. “We’d like to see some sort of boutique grocer. There are number of concepts out there, some that are much better than others. There will be a mix of some existing local tenants, and some new local tenants, as well as some concepts that aren’t yet in Mississippi.”
Duckworth used as an example of a good local-national mix the Hill Center development in Nashville. “You look at their tenants, they have Whole Foods, West Elm, but it’s not the same brand-name national tenants that you see in some other developments,” he said.
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