Whitney Place In the Works | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Whitney Place In the Works

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A preliminary rendering of Whitney Place showcases a mixed-use development that would replace existing Fondren buildings on State Street.

Watkins Partners Developer David Watkins said today that his plans for a multi-use development on eight acres of land in Fondren will replace the deteriorating 1930s business strip used as a set for "The Help" with vibrant residential and retail space.

Whitney Place is named after his late daughter-in-law, Whitney Luckett Watkins. It could begin construction in late 2011. Watkins purchased the property in 2008, but put the project on hold when credit markets dried up during the national recession. Plans for the estimated $80 million project, located between Mitchell and Hartsfield streets, includes an Indigo Hotel, retail, apartments, and green space for community festivals and concerts.

"We want a development that will have fairly high density, that fits in with 21st- century urban planning, and we want a building that will have architectural consistency with the neighborhood," he said in an interview at the Jackson Free Press today.

First, the development will build a new building where Butterfly Yoga and Rankin Interiors are currently located. Wells Cleaners, James Patterson Photography, S&E Lock and Key, and Campbell's Bakery and other businesses located in the 1938 cinderblock building on State Street, have the option to temporarily relocate into that new building and then move back to their original space when construction is complete.

Watkins said the current buildings have significant structural and electrical damages, and it would cost more to save them than to construct a new building. Watkins said he attempted to get historic preservation tax incentives to restore the buildings, but the Mississippi Department of Archives and History informed him that the buildings had no historic architectural significance, and therefore would not quality for the credits. Watkins used historic tax credits to renovate the King Edward Hotel.

"We are replacing buildings that have a lot of history and a lot of sentimentality but have no economic value," he said. "... Because of all the tax credits, we were able to revive the King Edward. These buildings don't have the same (architectural significance). There is nothing but the sentimentality."

Watkins said the development will have a 1940s architectural style. He said he is working with existing business owners to keep rent affordable so they can remain in Fondren.

"Our goal is not to build a building, but a development that from the day that it is built will fit into the theme of our neighborhood and to the integrity of our community," he said.

Watkins pointed out that he does not own the old Pix Capri Theater; and will build the development around the theater.

The developer said he understands the sentimental value of and history of the buildings and welcomes suggestions from the community concerning the project.

"I'm about as sentimental as the next guy," he said. "... My plan is that when we finish the structure, we are going to have something architectural and historically significant. I'm not building a cheap structure. I'm not building some concrete-block Walmart structure just to make a buck. I am building a community."

James Patterson, whose photography studio is one of the businesses that will be torn down, said he understands the need for the new building.

"Having been a tenant for seven years, I understand the nature of these buildings not being able to be saved," Patterson said. "It's a shame because I really like the way it looks. But in a practical sense, it would take a lot more money to save them than to do something else with them. ... Most of the places are going to fall down eventually."

Jason Meeks, owner of S&E Lock and Key, worries that the development will take away from Fondren's uniqueness. "I think a lot of people agree that it would take away the charm of Fondren if (Watkins) decides to make it into a Renaissance-like shopping center," he said.

Previous Comments

ID
160368
Comment

I hope it doesn't become another Renaissance either, though I don't think David would let that happen.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-10-15T14:01:44-06:00
ID
160370
Comment

let's give david a chance before we make snap judgments. he didn't too shabby of a job with that hotel downtown, did he?

Author
2599
Date
2010-10-15T14:48:53-06:00
ID
160371
Comment

David gets all my respect and benefits of doubt. He may've done more for this city than anyone else ever had. And this isn't even counting things that have yet to come to fruition.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2010-10-15T15:11:52-06:00
ID
160372
Comment

The idea that David is proposing is much needed - the implementation is the difficult part. A multi-story urban wall on the west side of State Street would greatly improve the urban density of the area, but the skyline will need to be somewhat fragmented so that the appearance still mimics multiple structures joined together, even though in reality it will probably be just a few large structures. Fondren would greatly benefit from having more apartments on/near the core (think Fondren Corner apartments, but newer), which would not only enhance the local events, but would also increase sales for local businesses. This development also seems to utilize the land directly behind the businesses on the west side of State Street - the land that is currently being ignored as usable space, which I see as a benefit. Fondren is great, and as long as the design respects the existing environment while adding to it, then I see no reason to chastise yet.

Author
chip
Date
2010-10-15T15:30:52-06:00
ID
160373
Comment

*..."option to temporarily relocate into that new building and then move back to their original space when construction is complete. " "..."He said he is working with existing business owners to keep rent affordable so they can remain in Fondren." Well, I am sorta glad to hear this ^^, because it is the very first time I (and several others) have heard it. Many of the business owners in this strip are very concerned about whats going on with this whole situation. The costs involved with moving several of these business's contents are going to be extraordinary, and it will have to be done twice! There is very large heavy equipment in most of our stores, ie:well's, jax shoe. I have literally thousands of different key blanks, and tons of stock that will require careful organization and moving, and very large heavy shelving that was NOT fun to move in here! Basically it is a nightmare on the horizon, and not just for me, but for all of us that have had business's here forever. I will admit some of the buildings are in need to renovation, but its going to be VERY difficult for some of the business's here to relocate (times 2) I know David reads and posts here. We would certainly appreciate a bit more detail, and maybe some open discussion amongst the business owners and you, as we are mostly in the dark at the moment. We are having to answer many questions to our everyday customers, which all we can do now is shrug and say "I dunno" which we have done for the last three years or so. Articles like this, facebook posts, and other recent discussions at meetings have only increased the questions, and uncertainty for everyone. My number is 601-362-0541, can reach me anytime.

Author
SELock
Date
2010-10-15T15:56:22-06:00
ID
160375
Comment

It's easy to see why some people, especially business owners, might be apprehensive about such a large project coming to Fondren; it would change things rather dramatically, whether positive or negative. Maybe there should be a public conversation about it somewhere where everyone can ask questions, make suggestions, express concerns, etc. We'd be happy to promote such a forum.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-10-15T16:31:02-06:00
ID
160376
Comment

I would like to add to this also: "Watkins said the current buildings have significant structural and electrical damages," There is NO electrical damage, or structural damage (that I know of) at ANY of the stores south of Antique Market. Jax Shoe, us, and Well's have never had ANY issues with any of those problems! We want our great customers to be assured that the buildings are not going to fall down around their heads, when they come in to see us! signed : SE Lock, Well's, Jackson Shoe

Author
SELock
Date
2010-10-15T16:36:54-06:00
ID
160377
Comment

re Donna: At the last Fondren meeting there was a discussion about it, I was unable to attend due to volleyball tournament with kids. While I am all for public discussion(s), there are many questions that need to be addressed between the business owners and David Watkins, since this article states what it does. You can also email me at selockandkey@gmail.com we would like to hear from you David, because there are several of us that have never spoken with you about any of this, and some questions need to be addressed

Author
SELock
Date
2010-10-15T16:45:03-06:00
ID
160378
Comment

This all kind of makes me wish there was more of a walkable corridor between Fondren and Belhaven. The would tie Fondren better to downtown and Jackson's urban core. The university medical center doesn't have to stand in the way of such a corridor. The west side of State Street between Woodrow Wilson and Fondren isn't really used for anything but parking for the medical center and the stadium. I'd love to see what a developer like David Watkins or someone else could do to transform that current no-man's land into a something more enjoyable, walkable, and at the same time, economically productive.

Author
Mark Michalovic
Date
2010-10-15T20:11:23-06:00
ID
160384
Comment

Correct me if I'm wrong Jennifer, but if the buildings were built in the 1940s, they would not qualify for historic tax credits because they were not built before 1936. The area could apply for an historic designation through the National Register, but at this time, there is not any historic significance as it applies to historic tax credits.

Author
maybob95
Date
2010-10-16T08:06:04-06:00
ID
160392
Comment

Way to go, Jennifer! I'm glad to see that their are others that appreciate "the business strip" in Fondren. To me, it's the heart of Fondren (along with the old corner building across the street). While I'm amazed and extremely grateful that Mr. Watkins and his group have invested their time and, more importantly, their money in Jackson, I hate to see "progress" in place of the uniqueness that makes Fondren, well, Fondren. Just look at the new BankPlus building next to the old Duling School. While they tried to make it look like an historical art deco building, it comes off as a cheesy-ripp-off to me. Again, Jackson is extremely lucky to have someone like Mr. Watkins, who is investing millions in the city, while most have given up and headed for Madison County. I just wish he would go the route he went with when he renovated the King Edward and Standard Life buildings. If he could bring the King Edward back (BTW, it vacant for DECADES!), there's NO WAY you can tell me that you can't renovate a one story strip of properties that haven't been vacant at all during their lifetimes. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to save "the strip". If we can't get it registered, I say we start a petition. Build all of the psuedo art deco buildings behind the strip. We don't need Fondren to feel like Applebee's. Word.

Author
Dave Coleman
Date
2010-10-16T17:07:12-06:00
ID
160394
Comment

I live in Jackson but don't live in Fondren, but am terribly Fond of Fondren, and would hate to see it get progressed/upscaled and lose its local flavor, quaintness and charm. I am also terribly fond of David and Watkins developments. PLEASE oh PLEASE respect the Fondrenness and allow the street - eye level - to maintain its uniqueness and not diminish it to just for something new. Build up the area behind/above it but NOT the businesses 'strip.' You can't build charm or commitment from the community when you diminish such a remarkable storefront. Hard to imagine what traffic and parking will be in the midst of this neighborhood. Let Fondren be Fondren, WP, and build into that charm - not reinvent something not authentic to that community. WP has all the talent and resources to do this (nearly) completely right for the size of the community, essence of the community - and still deliver goods and services and prosperity and good quality of life for all - businesses, residents and customers that love to go into Fondren (despite the lack of parking) and stay in Jackson for purchases. Add more of what we have. There's no other developer here I'd trust to get this right!

Author
ezekiel
Date
2010-10-16T21:31:41-06:00
ID
160396
Comment

I can see the pluses and minuses of leaving the strip versus tearing it down. If there is significant (read: non-repairable) damage in these buildings, by all means, they need to go. Aesthetics should never be placed ahead of the safety and health of people. That being said, the little strip has great character and if there was any way to salvage it, it would be a nice touch for the new development. In Memphis on Beale, I know there is a protection that calls for the facade of buildings to remain even if the structure comes down. I'm sure, though, this is due to historical significance, which, as we see, remains in question here. Of course, this doesn't resolve the relocation issues these businesses will face. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Bottom line: David Watkins wants to put millions of dollars into the thriving, growing neighborhood that is Fondren, so I'm all for exploring the best ways to make this reality. As a Fondren resident and supporter, I am thrilled we are being considered worthy of such a project.

Author
2599
Date
2010-10-16T23:57:37-06:00
ID
160401
Comment

Not to be rude, but every time I've read "quaintness", "unique", or "funky", I'm translating that in my head as "hoboshantytown." I'm a Fondren resident who's been out of town for some time, and from all the painting and touch-ups I've seen from the film production crew, it's neat to see a Fondren Business District that looks like it gives a damn, that looks as if there has been a reinvestment in itself. I feel like the development plan is the way to move with it. We could potentially see more smaller, convenient changes, be it increased parking, nicer sidewalks, maybe a Park (which would be awesome), and possibly even more space for newer shops/restaurants (dare I say, the potential for a Fondren Nightlife?!) I doubt David's trying to bring Starbucks to Fondren (remember that freakout?). Let's just see what he's putting out on the table.

Author
Mr_Zanzibar
Date
2010-10-17T13:27:47-06:00
ID
160402
Comment

Not to be rude, but every time I've read "quaintness", "unique", or "funky", I'm translating that in my head as "hoboshantytown." Wow, where are you coming up with such an outlandish read on what's been said!?! I see no one saying that here. Let's just see what he's putting out on the table. There is a rendering with the above story. And thank God Starbucks didn't come to Fondren. Of course, it might have closed by now if it had. I hope whatever happens next doesn't bring Gaps, etc., to kill the local businesses. That's one thing that scares many people about huge developments: what they can do to the little guy.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-10-17T14:49:39-06:00
ID
160405
Comment

Appreciate that words mean things. But words also take on new and altered meanings these days. I strive to use the best words. Quaint=attractively unusual or old-fashioned. Original sense wise, clever, out of the ordinary. Appreciate the discussion - but if we want to be homogenized/vanilla'ized (as in boring 'plain vanilla') we can go out to suburbs and shop the contrived, sterilized shopping strips that look just like all the others across the globe (gap, old navy, body shop, etc.) At street/eye level in NYC what's inside may change but the authentic structure (architectural style and eclectic'ness REMAIN). (Just checking...Eclectic=deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. Origin - pick out.) We've gotta' allow for development but wonderful WP's gotta' fully appreciate the whole of the community. Keep its essence, David. Respect what it is and don't make it just 'new.' Jxn shouldn't settle for new for the sake of new. In the past Jxn and other cities were quick to tear down what had character and quaintness only to try to rebuild it decades later. Please, let's not that anywhere and in this case, not Fondren. Let's not overbuild or over contrive but add to, in the best of ways.

Author
ezekiel
Date
2010-10-17T15:11:55-06:00

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