Investors from Jackson and beyond recognize downtown’s potential and are working to revitalize the city one building at a time.
By Will Brown
Photos by Drew Dempsey
All across downtown Jackson, an economic boom is taking place. Companies and developers are dedicating capital to facilitate the development of the area. This development includes everything from new restaurants, apartment complexes, office spaces and improved green space in public parks.
In the past decade, around $1 billion has been invested into the development of downtown Jackson. This came after many downtown businesses had left older buildings for new facilities in suburbs such as Madison, Ridgeland and Rankin County. Today, more than 60% of the property in downtown Jackson is owned by people who do not call Mississippi their home. These outside developers have decided to invest in downtown Jackson because they see vast economic potential that, for many years, native Mississippians did not see. They come from larger cities within a few hours of Jackson such as Memphis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Chattanooga.
Developers believe that downtown Jackson is filled with potential and have no doubts that downtown will continue to transform into an area where many people will want to live, work and socialize. Downtown Jackson Partners Executive Director Ben Allen said downtown residency can hopefully house around 2,000 people. Ben believes that the key to bringing a younger demographic to downtown Jackson is to create a community where people have access to all the services they need within an area where they can live and work as well. “People want to live downtown. But they need to have services,” Ben said in an interview with theClarion Ledger. “They need to have a place where they can get their shoes repaired, a place to get eyeglasses, restaurants, you name it.” Many new developmental projects in downtown Jackson are designed to fulfill these purposes.
John Gomez is the associate director of Downtown Jackson Partners, who have helped facilitate the renovation of Smith Park on Yazoo Street. The park recently reopened to the public with a new look, now including new benches and walkways. This new development is the second of three phases meant to completely overhaul the park. “Smith Park was a project we completed back in March; it opened in April. The park was in bad shape for the last decade. Four years ago, we started to renovate the park. We did a total renovation for $2.5 million,” said John. “We approached the legislature three times in four years to fund the project and last November we decided to do a second phase of the project.” The first phase, which began in 2016, consisted of removing dead and dying trees from the park. The recently completed second phase consisted of filling in ditches and putting in grass to add green space to a concrete park. The project is still looking for funds to do a complete overhaul of the park.
There has been a wave of new projects and developments that have accelerated the economic growth downtown. Recently, the Heritage Building on the corner of Congress and Capitol Street as well as the buildings near the Watkins and Eager law firm and the Taste of the Island Caribbean restaurant were bought and renovated by developer Kip Gibert. Most of the Heritage Building will be transformed into office space, and according to John, some of the smaller neighboring buildings will contain apartments and one will contain a private indoor courtyard. Kip’s company Trebig Properties LLC has worked to clean out these abandoned buildings across the street that have been in disrepair for several years.
East Capitol Street in the heart of downtown is the epicenter for many new developmental projects. The nearly vacant Landmark Center on East Capitol Street is set to be redeveloped by J. Dyke Nelson’s Weinstein Nelson Developers. Dyke plans to convert the 100,000 square foot building into two hundred apartments, a grocery store, restaurants and commercial retail space. Dyke is hoping the project will be complete by 2019. Also, on East Capitol Street, the Faulkner Building is being redeveloped by Chattanooga developer Buddy Faulkner and will contain two ballrooms, a board room, a parlor, a rooftop terrace and office space available to lease when the project is completed this August. The Regions Plaza, one of the tallest buildings on the Jackson skyline at twenty-two stories, has also been recently renovated by the Hertz Investment Group. Two floors of the plaza now belong to the Forman Watkins law firm, and the investment group also installed a $1.4 million motor court and service entrance for the 144 apartments in the building.
The Lamar Life Building on East Capitol Street is also undergoing a major developmental project. The building is located in the heart of downtown right across the street from the Governor’s Mansion. It is the oldest skyscraper in downtown Jackson and is famous for its iconic clock tower on the top of the structure. The building has great historical significance and is listed on the National Historic Register at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The Lamar Life Building is owned by Andrew Mattiace of Mattiace Properties. “I’ve owned this building for about twenty years,” said Andrew. “It was built in 1925, and it was called the first skyscraper in the South.”
Mattiace Properties is currently working on a project that will renovate the inside of the building into office space, apartments and possibly a new restaurant on the building’s street floor. “The project has real momentum and is a significant opportunity because most of the other buildings are residential,” Andrew said. Mattiace Properties also owns Capitol Towers, which sits right next door to the Lamar Life Building. The Lamar Life Building is connected to the garage of Capitol Towers through a pedestrian walkway. “If you live and work in the Lamar Life Building, you will park in our garage,” Andrew said. With the new developments in the Lamar Life Building, it may become possible for people to both live and work inside the same building. The building has eleven floors, and following the completion of the project, floors two through six will be designated for new office space. The seventh through the eleventh floors will be designated apartment space. The first floor is expected to be developed into either a restaurant or a store for general merchandise. Andrew says that at this time there are no retail tenants negotiating for the first-floor street entrance space, and that most prospective tenants so far are from the food industry.
Andrew says that the apartment spaces will be used to draw people to downtown Jackson. The apartments are in the center of downtown and are walking distance to many downtown locations. Andrew says that this is meant to attract young people who may be beginning their professional career in the downtown area. “It is very convenient for a young professional to live and work downtown,” Andrew said. “The apartments will have great views the city with free parking and all the amenities that come with it.”
The project is expected to be completed by December first of this year, and by that point people should be able to move into apartments in the Lamar Life Building. Andrew says that this new development will create approximately 250 temporary jobs as part of the construction and rehabilitation, and about forty permanent jobs that are meant to serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of downtown Jackson. Andrew believes that the Lamar Life Building serves as a critical component to downtown Jackson due to its location and unique history, and that it needs to be an essential part of the redevelopment of downtown.
“The location, the history and the renovation plans combined make the Lamar Life Building a critical part of downtown Jackson’s revitalization,” Andrew said.