Standing in line at the Reservoir Winn-Dixie's grand opening Saturday, Jan. 29, you could feel the excitement surging throughout the store from not only customers but store employees as well. After all, Deuce was in the house. Men, women and children waited with glee to offer shirts, jerseys, hats and lots of footballs for New Orleans running back Dulymus "Deuce" McAllister to sign.
Most people thanked McAllister with wide grins, while others tried to establish a connection with him. One man said that he worked with McAllister's mother at Wal-Mart a few years back. Another woman proclaimed that she was his cousin's teacher. "He brought me a picture of you to prove it," she said. Others just asked for a picture with the man of the hour using anything from camera phones to disposable cameras bought at the store's photo lab. No matter the request, McAllister seemed ready and willing to do anything for the fans.
He's also doing big things for the city of Jackson.
McAllister, in the spirit of downtown development, is the most famous investor in the plan by the New Orleans-based Historic Renovations Inc. to renovate the historic King Edward Hotel into condominiums and shops, announced in late 2004. Initial environmental work on the project, which is projected to cost $135 million, began in January--and will ultimately determine whether the building is fit to be renovated. The Mississippi Heritage Trust has ranked the hotel as one of the state's 10 most endangered historic sites.
Born Dec. 27, 1978, in Lena, Miss., 26-year-old Deuce McAllister has excited Mississippians since his Morton High School days. Then, McAllister was named Most Valuable Player twice and led his school to a 8-4 record and Division 5-3A title. He was the first-team All-State pick by the Mississippi Sports Writers Association and the Clarion-Ledger as defensive back in Morton. After graduating from the University of Mississippi with a degree in criminal justice, he was a first-round draft pick for the New Orleans Saints in 2001.
Now McAllister is entering the business world, using the high dollars he earns as a NFL player to re-invest in projects in his home state--from the King Edward to a car dealership in South Jackson to possibly opening nightlife venues in the area. His investment in the King Edward has caused some controversy because of the hotel's history as a "white" hotel in a segregated past. As a young black man, some fear that McAllister is making a big mistake by helping to revitalize one of the state's most racist symbols. One urban legend--that may well be true, but is unsubstantiated--is that the white owner of the King Edward (whose name people do not seem to recall) stood in the hotel's front door during the Civil Rights Movement and proclaimed that he'd shutter the place before he'd allow black people to lodge there. Understandably, such a story can leave a bad taste, and some African Americans in the community would rather see such a symbol of an ugly past be torn down.
However, McAllister and many others--including Jackson attorney David Watkins, who is white and a partner in the deal--believe that renovating the King Edward and opening it to everyone would be an even better symbol of a bright future.
McAllister spoke with the JFP after he finished signing autographs at the Winn-Dixie.
JFP: What got you interested in these sorts of investments and projects?
DM: Just the opportunity to give back. I just wanted to be a positive influence on the community. Obviously if you look at it, it is a long-term investment project, you know. When you talk about investment projects, you can obviously talk about the risk factor. Some people say it is a risky opportunity. Probably, more than anything, most people look at the history of the building. But I still think that it can be made into a positive outlook, not just for Jackson but for the whole state.
Why did you pick downtown Jackson to get involved?
Downtown. Downtown is the heartbeat of any city. If you can get involved in the downtown area, that is the heartbeat of any city. How well the downtown area is going to go determines how well the city is going to go. You see a lot of people talk about the crime in Jackson and everything, but nothing is going to be perfect. There are always things that you can do better as a city. Just try and improve it. I know the city of Jackson has done a lot to try to improve the downtown area. They are trying to build the district up. So I am just happy to be involved with it.
What's your overall vision for the renovated King Edward and its surroundings?
The plans and everything I think aren't really set in stone, yet. But the total outlook is to have apartments, office space, retail. You know you want it to be somewhere where people can feel confident about staying there. If they worked downtown, then they can live downtown. You don't have to get in your car and exit the city just because you don't feel safe. And that is what the ultimate goal is.
How do you feel a development like this will affect its surroundings and the downtown economy?
Hopefully we can pump it up. People making a commitment to the downtown area, especially the King Edward, will help fuel others to want to come and invest in the city. Whether it is a coffee shop or restaurant or a shopping center, you need something positive to get people interested in coming downtown again. I think the city has been doing some great things and, obviously, there is some room for improvement. I think that the Telecommunications Center project and the passing of the Convention Center (tax) helps because now more people are involved in coming downtown.
What else needs to be done in the area to make the King Edward a success?
Obviously, we have done some different studies. The group that I am with, HRI, has done a lot of projects with downtown areas. They have worked in downtown St. Louis, they have done the Baltimore project and even in New Orleans. So it is pretty much a world-renowned group. But when you are talking about the King Edward, you are not just talking about one building, you are talking about the overall (downtown development landscape). Like I said, the Telecommunications building will play a part in it. The Convention Center will play a part in it, obviously. I don't know exactly what type of facelift it will take on the outside or what type of look will go on the outside, but you want it all to tie in. You don't want it to be just one building by itself. You want it to tie in with its surroundings.
What could go wrong in your opinion?
Probably the biggest thing that could make the project fail is if we don't get people involved. If we keep the project on a straight line, and you don't want the high hierarchy people involved, then that is not going to work. For the project to really work, you are going to have to have all people, regardless of color or income. You are going to have to have all people involved.
How do you think your high profile as an athlete will affect the
I think it will help in a lot of ways. I think it shows my commitment to the project and to the city. True enough, I wasn't raised in Jackson, but I was raised for a part of my time in Jackson. And I did not graduate from high school in Jackson, but I know enough about the city to want to be involved. Me being an athlete�I think that can only help.
How do you respond to the concern that the development will be primarily for middle-or upper-income people?
Obviously, there is some concern in that respect. However, the one thing we have to do as a group is to not only get the middle/upper class involved but the lower as well. We need to try to not leave anybody out. That will probably be the beauty of the downtown area. We will try to have something for every class. You don't want to make it a one-race thing. You want to make it for everyone. Blacks, whites, it does not matter what color you are, or what your income level is. We are going to try to do some creative things where everybody is happy with it.
Some say the King Edward should be torn down due to its segregationist past. How do you respond to that?
Its history is a touchy issue. It is a building where blacks were basically not allowed. I read about where (the site) was a housing ground for Confederate soldiers. And the history is just that--history. You learn from it. Some people always get stuck in the past. We live now in a day and age where not only a black man or black people will be allowed to go into the hotel, but a young black individual owns the building. You are talking about truly advancing--not only for a race but for a state. Mississippi history speaks for itself. I am not naive in thinking that I will be able to change history or change the past, but I think we all can learn from it.
What other businesses are you involved with in and around Jackson?
Well, the King Edward is one. I have the Nissan dealership that will be in Jackson as well. Hopefully, South Jackson is a target location for that project. Then I have a trucking company, and I do a little real estate down in New Orleans.
What do you do for fun?
I like to hang out, to travel. I like to fish. I'm a country boy. I have experienced the city life, but I am truly a country boy.
Can you tell us one thing that most people don't know about you?
Most people look at me as a athlete. And you see how some athletes act. I think I am just a normal person. I just happen to play on Sundays and a lot people see my face on Sundays, but other than that I am just a normal guy.
Perhaps Deuce, David, etc. can portray the project in a "storming the castle" light -- capturing an old segregation bastion and remaking it into a symbol of justice. According to the Bible, Jerusalem was once a pagan ritual area, but the Hebrews captured it and turned it into their main religious center (some may not like that analogy, but I think it does get my point across).
This is the best thing to happen to Mississippi since cotton.
- Black Man