14in14-1by 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 part one of “14 in 14,” we look at our top stories from the year that, like years past, point to a Fondren that’s on the rise.

– 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 affect 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 audio visual 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 different 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 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 fit 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).”

Related: 14 in 14: Part 2