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District at Eastover takes shape with financing in place, tenant signings under way

Developers of the $115 million District at Eastover mixed-use development say financing has been secured and a groundbreaking is imminent for the project that was to start construction last summer.

Ted Duckworth, a principal of The District Land Development Co., is promising to bring a combination of shops, restaurants, hotel, theater, offices and loft residences unmatched in Mississippi. “There is nothing like what we’re doing” that is already “here in Mississippi,” he said.

For comparison, he said, envision the City Center in Houston built to a Jackson scale. “It’ll have its own character. We’re creating a destination.”

Duckworth said he and development partner Breck Hines, both principals of downtown Jackson’s Duckworth Realty, traveled the country looking at other projects. They settled on a plan to cluster the various elements around green space, an arrangement Duckworth said he expects to be especially appealing to office tenants. “The new amenity for office tenants is being in a livable development. Tenants are paying 8 to 10 percent more to be in those developments where employees want to be and clients want to come.”

The 140,000-square-foot office building has already secured a signature tenant, the law firm of Baker Donelson, which will lease 75,000 square feet. The building is to be completed by July 2015, as will a 400-space parking garage for office tenant use during the day and movie and restaurant patrons at night.

The 585,000-square-foot mixed use complex will go up in two close-together phases on 23 acres on the east side of Interstate 55 on which the state’s School for the Blind once stood. “We’re trying to get” phase two “on the same track as phase one,” Hines said in an interview. “It’ll maybe fall six to eight months behind” phase one.

The District at Eastover will have about 85,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. The theater will be another 40,000 square feet. Two-hundred-forty apartments are planned. In all, the mixed-use complex will cover the equivalent of four to five city blocks, the developers say.

The District at Eastover2 Current DrawingsThe remaining square-footage consists mostly of bank space, Hines said, referring to the building that Community Trust Bank will occupy.

“The lofts/retail building, hotel, the restaurant/retail/condo building and the bank will also start so that all their completions generally fall in line with the office building, Hines said in an email.

“During that time, we finalize the leases for the restaurants/coffee/yogurt locations… and because they are smaller buildings and do not take as long to construct, we believe those, too, will be open on the same timeline as the aforementioned,” he added.

A Residence Inn by Marriott and a Cantina Laredo restaurant are set to join Community Trust Bank and some other niche retail on the project’s perimeter.

“We’ve been working on this since 2007,” Duckworth said. “We paid all cash for the property. Fortunately, we weren’t beholden to an interest meter running. That has given us time to develop it our way — to create a place unique to Jackson. “We want an environment that is not some kind of something” else, Duckworth added.

Neither French nor Italian, he said, “just an outdoor place people may want to go to.”

Planning started just as the nation’s real estate slump and banking crisis began, but the $4 million cash purchase of the property from the state gave Duckworth and Hines time for both banking and real estate to regain their footing. “They’ve come around,” Duckworth said of lenders.

“This kind of ground-up development is probably the most challenging in the market these days,” he added. “But bankers are interested in doing deals.”

Hines noted an “infill” mixed-use project such as the District at Eastover can be more difficult to accomplish than a suburban “greenfield” project by which the developers get out in front of the growth.

“There you are early and it becomes a factor of how long you can support it until growth and development gets there. Infills are harder. They’re mixed use and take longer” to develop, which is demonstrated by the seven years of work that went into the District at Eastover.

The upside, Hines said, is that once the project is there “the population is already there.”

The population near the District of Eastover is in the center of Metro Jackson, near an intersection at Lakeland Drive and I-55 where 130,000 automobiles pass daily.

The actual trade area developers see has a 100-mile radius and includes 824,000 people, with average annual household incomes of $114,844.

The developers received a $150,000 state “brownsfield” rebate to help cover the approximate $300,000 cost of removing asbestos from the former School for the Blind building before demolishing it, according to Hines.

The City of Jackson designated the District at Eastover property a tax increment district by which the project can receive up to $7 million in tax increment funding over a 10-year period based on increases in property tax values within the district.

Hines said grading of the property will begin as soon as the ground dries out from winter rains.

Architect for the project is Nelson Palmer of Austin, Texas. Construction manager is Stewart Swayze, president of Jackson’s Swayze Consultants. Hines said a general contractor is expected to be selected in the next month.

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