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A small group of business and property owners gathered at The Cedars last night to hear about updated plans for a $2.5 million mixed-fund grant  for aesthetic and safety enhancements in the Central Business district in Fondren. The funds come as part of a federal transportation grant awarded last year. Mark Beyea and Jonathan Kiser, engineers with Neel Schaffer, presented preliminary renderings and George Ewing, a City of Jackson landscape engineer, was on hand to provide insight.

A handout prior to the meeting listed the key objectives in the project as this: to beautify the Fondren business district, improve pedestrian access and provide some distinctive features that will “brand” the area as Fondren. Beyea began by mentioning the physical limitation points of the grant as “Old Canton at State (the point), State at Hartfield and Old Canton to Glenway. The area, commonly known as the triangle, is in for a host of improvements in the project that could see construction begin as early as May 2013.

Wider, ADA accessible sidewalks would go from 4′ or 5′ at some places to 8′ and wider if possible. Beyea noted the area needs more room for outdoor displays and art. A green buffer is planned between the street and outdoor eating areas where applicable. Engineers say sidewalks will be repaired or replaced where needed. One sidewalk that will be completely new is from Duling to Lakeland on the east side of Old Canton.

As for landscaping, holly bushes, purple leaf plums, junipers and evergreens, among others are envisioned. Ewing calls for “low maintenance” plantings as the city will be responsible for upkeep. Ewing suggested businesses or garden clubs may be able later on to add plantings as long as those groups maintain them. “We have to keep site visibility in mind,” he said. Trees will be replaced on North State Street in front of the Entergy substation which drew praise from neighborhood advocates in attendance who say they were tired of maintaining them.

Raised, decorative intersections at State and Fondren Place and State at Duling are on the list. The measure is for traffic calming and will automatically increase driver awareness and make the area decidedly more pedestrian friendly. Plans will focus on the aesthetic at the point (State at Old Canton), removing concrete and giving better pedestrian access at crosswalks.

Additional major street changes include doing away with the extra right turn lanes at State and Fondren Place and State at Duling. Engineers were asked of the possibility to give State Street a protected left turn at State onto Duling. There will also be a narrowing of some streets (increasing net parking). Beyea spoke of the extreme width on Fondren Place and on State in front of the Entergy sub station. “It’s not necessary,” he says. Parallel parking can be created on State, and on Fondren Place, sidewalks can be widened and tress planted.

While some parking can be added, a few spaces will be eliminated in current renderings. A few spaces would be lost in front of the strip (the West side of State.) “Parking in the intersection is unsafe,” Kiser said, calling that a real challenge. Gunner Garness, an architect with Dale Partners working on Jason Watkins’ Pix Capri project, asked if engineers were willing to work with land owners. Beyea affirmed they are open to changes that may better benefit the area.

A roundabout, once discussed at Old Canton and Duling, has been tabled at this time, though it could still come up for discussion. Kiser said the downward slope of street would require major reconstruction of Duling Avenue.

Bike enthusiasts will like the idea of an extended bike lane from Duling to Old Canton, connecting the business district to the UMMC campus. There is also talk with interest from St. Dominic’s and UMMC of widening the sidewalk on south side of Lakeland to make a multi-use trail. That would eventually connect to the Museum to Market trail, approved, funded and ready for construction, from Belhaven to the Mississippi Children’s Museum. Kiser admitted, though there is interest, there is no funding as of now (that area is beyond the project boundaries.) “It would be easier to talk about a multi-use trail once Museum to Market is complete,” he said. “The question now is, if we build the multi-use lane, what do we connect to?” Additional cyclists’ amenities call for bicycle racks throughout the district.

Lighting fixtures, to be maintained by Entergy, were presented. A Westminster fixture was shown, available with poles in many colors. Entergy and AT&T are cooperating in consolidating utility poles.

Another component of the project calls for decorative gateway features at Old Canton at Lakeland, like a seat wall with a welcome message on the opposite side. Vertical and horizontal signage, where appropriate, wayfinding signs and street signs distinctive to the neighborhood are also planned. “You won’t see these anywhere else in Jackson,” Beyea said. Kiser says the signage will be a visual cue to let people know “this is Fondren.” There would be an opportunity to extend that branding into the residential neighborhoods and to the north business district. But Kiser stressed project limitations. “This grant is for a specific area,” he said. “It’s up to Fondren Renaissance to communicate the intentions of future branding strategies.” Renaissance executive director Jim Wilkirson agreed, saying there is a separate plan in place to introduce Interstate signage for Belhaven, Fondren and LeFleur East to tie the three areas together. “And more specifically,” he said “we want to look at ways to take the branding work done with the grant in to other areas of Fondren.”

Jatran riders will see a new bus shelter at Mitchell Avenue and State Street. The solar powered, lit, and decorative shelter must be approved by the city’s transit board. Bollards have been thought of for Duling at Morgan Place to be taken up or put in place for special events. Ewing cited the use of that area for special events like Zippitty Doo Dah® and the great job Fondren does of utilizing the space. And, not of any less importance, drainage will be addressed behind Rainbow Co-Op and at Morgan Place at Fondren Place. Beyea said they are aware of issues there.

The hour and a half session ended with those in attendance admiring renderings on display. An MDOT field review will be completed this month. Bids should be received in April 2013 with construction slated to begin in May. The project is expected to take 4-5 months.

See photos of the renderings here.