14 in 14: The Year in Review in Fondren

14in14-2by Paul Wolf, Publisher and Founder and Sophie McNeil Wolf, Editor

It seems that every time we sit down to talk with someone in Fondren, their observation about “Jackson’s Hippest Neighborhoodâ„¢” is always the same. They’ll say, “You know, it feels like, in the last year, Fondren has really taken off.” We laugh, reminding them that, this time last year, they would have said the same thing.

And this time next year, we imagine hearing that line again.

For a neighborhood whose retail and restaurant storefronts are never empty for more time than it takes a landlord to sweep up and repaint, Fondren has again, in 2014, experienced growth.

In some ways, we’re just filling out. In many others, Fondren is expanding beyond the lines typically thought to border the neighborhood.

– In what was seen as a historic move, Woodland Hills Baptist Church decided to coexist with Fondren Church on the Woodland Hills Church campus at 3327 Old Canton Road. The nearly 82-year-old Southern Baptist house of worship voted unanimously to approve the measure that took effect January 1. Services for Fondren Church, a non-denominational, non-traditional church who began meeting at Duling School in August 2011, began in March.

In June, the two bodies took it a step further with a formal agreement for Fondren Church to lease the property from Woodland Hills for the next ten years. This gave Fondren Church the ability to undertake a massive sanctuary renovation that included a new roof, new carpet and paint and a state-of-the-art audiovisual system.

On the same property, on the western edge of campus, North Ridge Church (who had been meeting here for some time) and LifeBridge Church, both who had starts in Madison, announced a merger. Effective in September, the arrangement allows both congregations to continue to operate as a multisite church with locations in Madison and Fondren under the name, Vertical Church.

Fondren’s first Thursday evening shopping opportunity got some new energy for 2014. “Fondren After 5 is getting it back to grassroots,” Ron Chane said of the reboot of the monthly event. Fondren Renaissance, the originator of Fondren After 5, said that this neighborhood is never stagnant and change is good.  “We want people to say, “What are they doing differently now? I wanna go see,’” Executive Director Jim Wilkirson said. Added Chane: “There’s a tailwind and it’s time to put some force behind it. We’re not reinventing the wheel, just rolling it again.” WATCH Fondren After 5 in action.

– Baton Rogue-based Venyu Solutions closed on the former McRae’s property in North Fondren for the development of a data storage and cloud-based data center and technology park. The $35 million project includes over 100,000 square feet of space and is estimated to produce 30-40 jobs once opened in 2015. By late in 2014, the company had removed awnings from recent years to return the building to its original appearance. In other North Fondren development, just across the street, Walgreens is constructing a new 14,000 square foot store, expected to open in the spring of 2015.

Fondren said “welcome home” to Mississippi’s Vietnam-era veterans during this year’s BancorpSouth Zippity Doo Dah® Parade.  All-American Service Persons program coordinator, Jim Wiley, a Vietnam veteran himself said, “What this parade is doing for us is putting to rest some of the subtle pain we’ve had all these years.” Indeed, it was the first-ever official welcome from the state of Mississippi, complete with a gubernatorial resolution. In October, Fondren Renaissance, Zippity Doo Dah® Weekend’s presenter, gave a check and donations in the amount of $100,000 to Friends of Children’s Hospital.

– A private development group, SKD Development, LLC, plans a project on property owned by the University of Mississippi Medical Center that could bring more than 200 apartment homes, office and retail space and associated parking to the north side of Lakeland Drive, across from the UMMC campus. Plans for The Meridian include up to 240 first-class apartment homes, parking, landscaping and 10,000 square feet of street-level office and retail. By the end of the year, developer Stuart Speed had begun demolition on the site at the intersection of Lakeland Drive and Peachtree Street.

– Fondren Place Development Group announced a joint venture with a Jackson-based hotelier to build a 100 room “boutique-style” hotel at the corner of Old Canton Road and Duling Avenue. Plans called for 3,000 square feet of retail space on the west side of the development, facing Babalu, and underground parking. While the Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved a site plan that took into account the appropriate scale and aesthetic for the project, developers put the hotel on hold, continuing to seek a project that best fits the business district property.

Actor John Krasinski was in Jackson, specifically Fondren, in May and social media was abuzz with sightings and seeking of the ‘Office’ star. We later learned he was in town to direct and star in The Hollars and a good portion of that movie was filmed in the neighborhood with Jackson native Tom Rice serving as producer. The movie is slated for a 2015 release.

– Attorney, developer and Jackson Chamber of Commerce board member David Pharr put together TEDx Jackson, an independently organized TED event, that was held in Fondren in November. Following the successful, day-long conference with speakers that even included Kermit the Frog, Pharr echoed the Muppet’s call to “ridiculous optimism.” He added, “I have projects — a lot of people do — and hopefully conversations will move quickly (following TEDx).”

14in14-2Have you noticed something about Fondren, especially in 2014?

Yep, it’s the food and drink and the readily available amounts of it, in all different styles of cuisines, now available in the neighborhood.

In 2014, we began to call Fondren “the culinary capital of Jackson” because, truly, this is the hub of edibles and elixirs in the city. It’s no wonder we wrote so many stories about new restaurants and changes and expansions of existing restaurants and bars.

– Four. Count them. FOUR new restaurants opened (or were almost open) in this past year!

Jesse Houston and wife Rachel celebrated this time last year plans to open a restaurant and, by August, welcomed diners to sample the return of the oyster bar to Jackson with Saltine Oyster Bar (they also welcomed a baby girl, Cordie, in late December).

When news came that MISO! would close in May, Walker’s Drive-In Chef Derek Emerson announced he would take the spot and open CAET, a wine and small plates tasting room “for grown-ups.” A highlight is their Napa Valley Wine Station, an intelligent wine preservation and dispensing system that allows you to sample small pours of bottles that may otherwise be too expensive to just try. CAET opened in September.

Around the corner, Jackson staple, Nick’s, also announced their departure in May. While multiple ideas were thrown around for the space at 3000 Old Canton Road, it was Surin of Thailand, a popular Birmingham and Atlanta Thai restaurant, that claimed the spot. Construction began over the summer and Surin is slated to open in January 2015.

As boutique Blithe & Vine relocated just down the block to Fondren Village, a vacancy in Fondren Corner brought us La Brioche in October, a French patisserie with a South American twist, opened by sisters Cristina Lazarri and Alejandra Sprouts. Their menu, including macarons, petit fours, tortes and alfajores also includes gelato, and all of their treats made in-house.

A Fondren staple, Brent’s, renovated and remodeled and, by year’s end, had settled into a “what’s old is new again” groove with a classic menu that now includes homemade bread, hand pattied burgers and house-made ice cream.

Twenty-one-year-old Cups isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The espresso cafe announced they would expand with the acquisition of the next door space. Manager Cody Cox also noted a renovation of their existing space was in the works for 2015. Progress has begun already with a new patio awning as part of the changes.

In other “non-edible” news…

– In September, the National Park Service announced it was placing “downtown Fondren” on the National Register of Historic Places. With the help of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Whitney Place Development Corporation, the designation allows for tax credits for interiors and exterior building renovations within the specified district.

– In early 2014, Peters Development, managers of the Duling School, announced that concert promoter Arden Barnett would assume management duties of the school’s auditorium, Duling Hall. In the past year, the amount and quality of events there has grown exponentially, from local album release parties to national touring acts. (Find It In Fondren is a proud sponsor of the Duling Hall Concert Series.)

– Fondren bookseller, Lemuria Books’ owner, John Evans, undertook a project that was a personal labor-of-love, a photography book about our capital city, simply called Jackson, with photographer Ken Murphy. When it was announced in late 2013, Evans said: “the foundation for the book had a simple goal: to capture what we value, enjoy and find beautiful about the city.” The book was published in August and is available with different covers, including a Fondren cover.

Another book, Studio Jackson, hopes to do for the art community what the Jackson book did for the city as a whole. Author Nell Linton Knox and photographer Ellen Rodgers Johnson profiled twenty-three Jackson artists’ studios with an in-depth look at their work and what makes their surrounding communities so beneficial to their practice.

– In December, the Gerturde C. Ford Foundation gave the American Cancer Society a major boost with a $3 million grant for a Hope Lodge on the site of the former Schimmel’s Restaurant on North State Street. Hope Lodges across the country provided nearly 262,000 nights of stay at no cost, saving cancer patients and their families more than $26 million dollars. There are 31 similar Hope Lodges nationwide.

– In late 2013, St. Dominic Health Services, in partnership with Fondren Renaissance Foundation and neighborhood churches, relaunched the Phoenix Initiative, giving grants to homeowners for much-needed facade and interior repairs to homes. 2014 saw the completion of a half-dozen projects, including Sarah and Beau Henry’s Pine Hill home. Bill Scruggs, a project coordinator for St. Dominic’s, was a Fondren Renaissance board member during the program’s original run from 2006 to 2009. “I don’t want this to stop,” he said. “It’s a great thing and I see the fruits of our labor. I’m hopeful Phoenix will continue finding the right partnerships with the right people. You think you’re just rehabbing a house, but it’s much more.”