In about two months of working the city beat for the Jackson Free Press, the thing I have run into and reported on more than any other is proposed development. And development is something Jackson needs, desperately.
Our state's capital has seen some development in recent years, from the resuscitation of the King Edward Hotel and the Electric Building, to the Jackson Convention Center. But a short drive around downtown and most of the surrounding areas will tell you that there is still a long way to go, especially when compared to the downtown of other state capitals and major metropolitan areas.
Since joining the JFP, I've reported on several proposed developments, including a new Whole Foods at Highland Village, Duckworth Realty's District at Eastover, Full Spectrum NY's 1822 Square at Old Capitol Green and Watkin's Development's Whitney Place, which will include a reopening of the Pix-Capri as a movie theater. There's also Capital Hotel Associates, who plan to renovate and reopen the Iron Horse Grill and build a luxury Westin Hotel downtown. And, of course, the seemingly never-ending plan to rebuild Farrish Street.
Last week, Jackson Square Shopping Center, the city's largest outdoor shopping center, celebrated it's grand reopening as Jackson Square Promenade.
These are all signs of life in a city that has been bleeding out for decades, watching its economy drain north on Interstate 55 and northeast on Lakeland Drive. And most of the credit is due to Jackson locals and natives, who have seen the economic opportunities this city has to offer going to waste, year after year.
Like most who have called Jackson home for the better part of the last 20 years or more (college years not included), I can't help but be skeptical when I hear about these proposed developments. I attend the City Council and Jackson Redevelopment Authority meetings, I interview the developers, I write the stories, and then I think, "OK, I'll believe it when I see it."
But is my skepticism warranted? I believe it is, but I pray it isn't. I pray time will prove my skepticism invalid.
If I didn't believe in the potential of this city, and more importantly in the people of this city, I wouldn't have moved back here. I would have made the move, like so many others of my generation, to greener pastures, or bigger, brighter metropolises. There are far more opportunities for journalists, as there are for almost every profession, in dozens of metropolitan areas across the country.
That fact has become even more true and apparent in recent weeks with the mass buyouts at The Clarion Ledger. Do not be fooled into thinking the plight of Gannett, The Clarion Ledger's parent company, has anything to do with any of Jackson's shortcomings, though. Coincidentally, it was the slow, agonizing, ongoing death of Gannett that helped me realize I needed to come back to Jackson. I worked at The News-Star, a Gannett-owned newspaper in Monroe, La., for seven months before returning to Mississippi's capital city. While it was the disastrous mismanagement of that media mogul that drove me from my job in Monroe (that's a story for another day), it was my deep love of Jackson and it's people and a desire to see this city become a beacon of progress, sustainability, art and culture that brought me back home, despite a complete lack of any signs of an available job in my field of choice.
And Jackson has what it needs to be that beacon — people who believe in the city, believe in themselves and believe we are all capable of something greater. But we must all act on those beliefs, creating new and inventive projects to make Jackson better for everyone. That is what developers like Duckworth Realty, Capital Hotel Associates, Full Spectrum NY (which is led by Jackson-native Carlton Brown) and Watkins Development are doing. They are investing millions of dollars and using available government programs to offer Jacksonians new places to shop, eat, work, play, create and be entertained.
We have all heard empty promises before. Farrish Street has become a monument to broken promises. But if Jackson is ever going to become the thriving, progressing, entertaining, money-making center of Mississippi that we all want it to be, these developers are going to have to come through on the proposals they've made. And we the people of Jackson need to do whatever we can to help them do so. Those who have the money to invest, should find a project they like and invest in it. Those with creative, entrepreneurial spirits and minds can create projects and new businesses of their own (there are several government incentives to help get you started). Those who have less to spare, can write letters to their councilmen, legislators, JRA board members and mayor and ask that they support these developments however they can. They can write letters of suggestion and encouragement to the developers, letting them know what they want to see in new city developments and thank them for the effort and money they have invested. And we can all support local projects and businesses by shopping local and attending events at the Convention Center and locally-owned entertainment venues.
So for all of you who, like me, are skeptical when you hear about new development projects in Jackson, but want so badly to see them come to fruition, we must all play our part if we want Jackson to be the best it can be. That means everyone sacrificing our time, efforts and money for the betterment not only of ourselves, but of our entire city. From the richest real estate developers to the poorest residents, we must all work to better our city. Because the best Jackson can be is a city full of people who want to make the most of their lives and help their neighbors do the same.