With a focus on economic development and Fondren’s future, the quarterly OurFondren meeting was held at The Cedars Tuesday night, highlighting upcoming projects and building new bridges, figuratively at least.
Lead by OFNA president Susan Margaret Barrett, the nearly two-hour session was a testament to the rapid growth of the neighborhood, with projects by private developers and city partnerships taking center stage.
Wes Harp, an OFNA committee member who organized the night’s discussion with help from Sara Weisenberger, pointed to one of the neighborhood’s greatest resources: its people. “We have the largest composite of creatives in the state, right here in Fondren,” he said. “That should be a strength that helps us build the city.”
By way of introduction, the city’s new public works director, Kishia Powell, dove right in, saying she’s glad to see cooperation in Fondren. “Most of you, by now, have heard of the city’s master infrastructure plan,” she told the nearly three dozen in attendance. “It’s not just about money, but solutions. We haven’t had a comprehensive improvement plan since 2003, so this is a drastic step in the right direction.”
Some of those improvements will come in the form of flood mitigation for Eubanks Creek. Roy Decker, the architect working with developer Jason Watkins on the Venyu Solutions site, said the paperwork is ready for city signatures to ask FEMA to redraw the flood maps, thereby lowering flood elevations in that area by 3.9 feet. “A study was commissioned to accomplish this as a result of a partnership not possible without the city,” he told. “Improving the flow will improve the creek systematically.”
It also improves the chance for more development to take place in North Fondren. Already, UMMC ‘s Telehealth will find a new home on Venyu property and a Florida-based telehealth company will locate there too, in all creating some 375 jobs. Watkins said, “It’s a testament to what Fondren — Jackson — has that can be repurposed. That building, the former McRae’s department store that sat vacant nine years, is a fortress with architectural merits.”
The National Park Service agreed, just last week placing that building, a first of its kind, on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation gives developers historical tax credits for facade as well as interior renovations. “It’s a 60’s early modern building,” Decker said, “and took us telling the story of the McRae family to land it on the list.”
Triangle Development’s Bob King, a 48 year building veteran who is responsible for the Taylor-Oxford-Downing Court project now under construction, spoke of their plans to work with the city to improve infrastructure for that area. Kings said they would replace some 900 feet of water line from from Oxford to Downing on Taylor and add additional lines from the project to Lorenz. “Whatever we need to do to meet our demand,” he said of the undertaking, which includes curb and gutter and the repaving of Oxford between Taylor and Lorenz.
Fondren Renaissance Executive Director Jim Wilkirson ran through a tally of upcoming projects, noting the long-awaited federal transportation enhancement grant (now slated for beginning late June-early July), recent renovations of Fondren Point (2727 Old Canton Road), an American Cancer Society Hope Lodge with a new site, the opening of Surin of Thailand and a yet-to-be-announced building project by BancorpSouth. He also invited attendees to the groundbreaking of SKG’s The Meridian, which took place Wednesday March 18.
Restaurateur and neighbor, Jeff Good, who served as a moderator for the night’s discussion addressed the final words to new Jacksonian Powell, gesturing to the crowd: “These are the people who have stayed in Jackson. They are good as gold and will go to the mat for the city. As you get to know them, they will be your trusted servants and partners. If we come to you, we will do our homework and follow through. Our goal is to raise the tide for the benefit of all.”
“Now, about those potholes,” he wondered to a rise of collective laughter in the room.