During the month of January, we at the Jackson Free Press get an opportunity to be steeped in excellence. We're talking to, writing about, taking photos of and presenting to the public the best—and frequently, the most unique—offerings that this area has to offer its residents and visitors.
It's worth a moment of reflection to think about how far we've come in the 14 years that the JFP has asked readers who and what they think constitute the "best."
When we started Best of Jackson back in 2002 (with a ballot in the first issue we printed and distributed), the King Edward was an empty shell. Fondren Corner was an abandoned Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries building; Duling Hall was a closed school; JSU was a small campus somewhat cut off from the rest of the city; the Jackson Convention Center was on the drawing board without a clear funding mechanism; the Mississippi Children's Museum might not even have been a twinkle in the Junior League of Jackson's eyes yet; and the Mississippi Museum of Art was in the building that now houses the Arts Center of Mississippi, surrounded by parking lots instead of a beautiful garden space.
In 2016, we now often talk about wonderful and recent landmarks—like the King Edward, Fondren, the Art Garden at MMA, the Lefleur Museum District, JSU's expansion into downtown.
On that front, we have a lot of to appreciate in Jackson. I'm excited to see the live music programmed by local clubs and restaurants, and at Duling Hall and Thalia Mara. Traveling Broadway shows are back in downtown. Jackson is teeming with wonderful restaurants—just as more unique offerings are popping up in the suburbs—particularly, according to our readers, some new standouts in Ridgeland and Flowood.
Something else that's going on right now in Jackson is some ... fretting. The City signed a massive "performance" contract with Siemens to address water problems, and yet those problems persist in a big way, including problems with the water system the contract effort was supposed to help fix.
We passed a 1-percent sales tax to improve infrastructure, but change has been slow coming, with many of us focused on our weeks- or months-old potholes and water bubbling up from underneath. We routinely hear stories of destroyed tires and busted axles from dedicated Jacksonians.
Many of us are still disappointed by a take-no-prisoners political campaign against fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and finally getting some of our more challenged schools the fair funding they need to address the educational needs of all our children. Beyond helping families and children, public-education support is key to the strength of the city and state—from public safety to economic development to a strong workforce.
And while we're right to focus on these items—and to do everything we can to fix them and encourage responsible leadership—I did want to offer another perspective during Best of Jackson season. We've got a great city, populated by great people. Excellent food, music, drinks, venues—even festivals and concerts. Good, solid, important local businesses, including some real standouts that do a much better job than the chain stores at serving local customers and increasing our quality of life.
Plus, we're building. The latest proposals and projects include mixed-used buildings, new Fondren apartments and hotels, The District at Eastover, growth in Highland Village, new residence halls at Jackson State, new housing hear Mt. Helm church and the Jackson Medical Mall, and much more.
Think about this: New Orleans has crappy streets. This fall I drove around those streets in our little Miata; after a few days, it could barely get back to Jackson because it was so out of alignment. But if you frequent New Orleans, you probably don't focus on the streets; you focus on the food and music and fun and wonderful people. That realization got me thinking that focusing that way on Jackson's positives can go a long way.
That's one of the reasons that I've gotten involved in TeamJXN (teamjxn.com), an organization that has grown out of a committee of Downtown Jackson Partners to become its own nonprofit organization. The group continues the work of Ben Allen, John Gomez and Emily Damiens at DJP to bring together local folks interested in Jackson development to learn more and rally them toward progress. Now with Executive Director Laura Johns and both a board of directors and an advisory board in place, TeamJXN is promoting progress on two key projects this year—the Museum to Market Trail and the redevelopment of Smith Park downtown.
Both these projects are important place-making efforts that will improve quality of life for Jackson residents. I invite you to get involved with us; visit the website to become an individual or corporate member.
In the meantime, I'm honored to thank the JFP staff members who continue to keep the Best of Jackson train on its tracks—people who embody a positive spirit and a love for Jackson and the work we do for it.
Amber Helsel has helmed the Best of Jackson effort again this year with tons of help from Micah Smith and freelancers including Genevieve Legacy, LaShanda Phillips, Jessica Smith, Zachary Oren Smith, and Danie Matthews; Kristin Brenemen designed the issue; Zilpha Young designed the ads and many other special sections; both created the Best of Jackson certificates for the finalists and winners. Imani Khayyam took photos all over the city of winners and wrote up some of them as well.
Maya Miller is on top of the social-media promotion and party planning; Mary Osborne has been coordinating the sales and event planning; Inga Sjostrom is organizing most everything else; Myron Cathey and Kimberly Griffin have sold the ads to make it all possible; and Dustin Cardon is getting it all on the website for your digital consumption. Richard Laswell and his team of drivers will get this heavy issue on the streets this week. R.L. Nave, Adria Walker, Sierra Mannie, Arielle Dreher and Melanie Collins, all in their own way, assisted with Best of Jackson and kept the company clicking along, all under the direction of Donna Ladd.
We also want to thank the sponsors for Best of Jackson week and the award ceremony—Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Patty Peck Honda, Lagunitas, Capital City Beverages, Davaine Lighting, Duane Smith and Servitude, Stephens Printing, Cathead Vodka, Kats Wine & Spirits, and Wendy Putt at Fresh Cut Catering—for all their help this week (and One Block East for hosting the after-party Sunday night).
This is a great week for our city, and filled with a positive spirit worth holding on to year-round. Get out there and enjoy everything this place we call home has to offer!
Todd Stauffer is president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press.