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Wanted: Replacement for Parkway’s downtown leadership

The coming departure of Parkway Properties from Jackson leaves a leadership void for downtown causes, says Ben Allen, president of the Downtown Jackson Partners, a public-private partnership created to promote and facilitate downtown’s revitalization.

Parkway’s executive corps brought a “care factor” that will be hard to replace, Allen said.

“As far a losing the emotional capital, I can’t sugar coat stuff like this,” he added. “Parkway was the one business I could depend on for guidance.”

Allen’s agency came to life through the efforts of Leland Speed, who as Parkway’s chairman led efforts to create a Business Improvement District, or BID, for downtown. “The BID was formed because Leland Speed shepherded it,” said Allen of the arrangement by which downtown property owners agree to be taxed to pay to improve and promote downtown.

Speed, as chairman of downtown-based EastGroup Properties, will remain a force. But unlike Parkway, EastGroup has nearly zero holdings in Jackson, having concentrated since the mid 1990s on industrial warehouse space in major markets across the Sun Belt.

Ben Allen

Steve Rogers, who stepped down as Parkway CEO at the start of the new year, has been Allen’s go-to-person on efforts to convert Capitol Street to two-way traffic. “Parkway was carrying the flag” for that, said Allen, who noted the effort has progressed to the point the city is doing engineering work needed to initiate the change.

But for future big projects?

“I’m hoping that someone might step up into their shoes,” he said.

That could be Allen himself, said Walter Becker Jr., a longtime Jackson commercial real estate broker. He sees Mayor Harvey Johnson in that role as well.

“Someone is going to have to provide the leadership,” Becker said.

“What you had with Rogers was downtown leadership. Rogers was one of those guys who tried to make everything better.”

In the end, Rogers paid a big price for the focus he put on Jackson and other secondary markets. Analysts blame years of concentration on these markets for Parkway’s underperformance and say new CEO Jim Heistand is the polar opposite of his predecessor.

“We think the next step may be a change to the name of the company, as the new management team looks to bury the past,” wrote analyst Richard Anderson of BMO Capital Markets in a report titled “Severing the Jackson Umbilical Cord.”

Judah Hertz, head of Hertz Investment Group, has an agreement with Parkway to buy One Jackson Place, the Pinnacle building and 111 Capitol Building, among others. Hertz, as owner of Regions Plaza in downtown Jackson, has been supportive of the Business Improvement District, according to Allen.

Duckworth Realty manages Regions Plaza for Hertz. Allen said that is a plus for downtown.

“Fortunately, the former chairman of the Downtown Partnership, Ted Duckworth, is the foot solider for the Hertz company here,” Allen added. “I think we’ll be fine as far as that goes.”

John Michael Holtmann, VP of brokerage for Duckworth Realty, has not ignored the issues facing the downtown Jackson market. “I think they have been pretty involved”… but “again they are not boots on the ground here like Parkway.”


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