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Commercial Property News Magazine Southern Comfort

Ive lived in Jackson, Miss., the states capital, for nearly my entire life and have sensed that great things would soon come to this area. As in numerous cities across America, many residents and businesses have left the citys core and fled to the suburbs, where land is cheaper and more readily available. The mass migration out of Jackson can explain the citys $4.1 million loss in assessed valuation. But it seems that as soon as the sprawl begins, real estate developers and others put their heads together and begin to pull for the underdog Downtown and decide to do something to re-ignite activity there. Thats the case for Jackson, and Duckworth Realty is one of the frontrunner's in reminding people that its not the state capital for nothing.Duckworth recently agreed to purchase The Electric building in Downtown Jackson and is planning to turn the 10-story office building into a mixed-use building with office, multi-family and retail.

A Downtown landmark, The Electric Building has been around since 1927 and has housed Mississippi Power and Light, later renamed Entergy Mississippi, since then. As operations have been streamlined, Entergy hasn'tt needed all of the office space. Ted Duckworth, president of Duckworth Realty, said his firm will work on the $15 million renovation project with JBHM Architects and hopes to break ground on the building in February 2004 and to welcome tenants during the second quarter of 2005. Entergy will lease back some of the office space in the building.

"The big news of the building," Duckworth said, "and the reason this has become such a big story is that this is the first significant private investment in Downtown in a number of years. Entergy has made a big commitment in the project and in keeping its headquarters in downtown Jackson."

The Electric Building renovation isn'tt the only exciting news in downtown Jackson. According to Duckworth, about $400 million worth of construction is underway or planned. The Mississippi Supreme Court is being torn down and rebuilt. The Walter Sillers State Office Building and the Department of Archives and History building are both scheduled to be en-ovated. A $15 million renovation of Union Station Depot has just been completed, and the GSA announced that the federal courthouse will be built north of the post office on Congress Street. The Jackson Police Station is being en-ovated, and the city recently bought the Standard Life Building with hopes of renovating it to encompass apartment units. And, finally, the Jackson Redevelopment Authority is looking for a buyer interested in gutting and redeveloping the King Edward Hotel, the abandoned hotel that has since rented its rooms to families of pigeons.

The success of Fondren Corners, an art deco style mixed-use building located on North State Street and right outside downtown, is possibly spurring the activity in the Jackson central business district. The stylish, five-story building, when completed, will have 16 loft apartments, and already houses restaurants and retail. A project to rehabilitate the Farish Street district and its surroundings, long known as a hub of African-American culture, is underway, and the entire "Farish Street Entertainment Project" will cost about $9.5 million.

"Its going to take a pioneer to make the first step," Duckworth said. "The city has been hugely responsible in trying to promote to get developers to come downtown." That is not an easy task, he notes, as Downtown land costs around $30 per square foot compared to suburban land prices in the $5 to 12 per square foot range. On the flip side, Jackson has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country, Duckworth said. While the average U.S. vacancy rate is 17 percent, in Jackson its only 7 or 8 percent.

Its apparent that Jackson has a bright future, as long as investors like Duckworth and the city government continue to put their time and efforts into its revitalization. Anybody that spends time there, not just an ex-pat like me, can see it has a lot of promise. I have a good feeling that the next time I take a visit back to Jackson that Ill need to put my sunglasses on because Ill be blinded by the overwhelming possibilities bursting from its seams.

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