Wednesday, March 7, 2012
A deal to redevelop the old Mississippi School for the Blind site is finally coming to fruition.
The District Land Development Company, through its manager Duckworth Realty, finalized a deal Feb. 24 with the State Department of Finance and Administration to purchase the property off Interstate 55 in north Jackson for $3.3 million. The deal has been in the works since 2006. It required state legislators to pass a bill in 2010 to allow Mississippi to sell the property.
"That (bill) got changed three different times. It got vetoed by the governor one time," said Ted Duckworth, president and CEO of Duckworth Realty.
The bill that finally passed, House Bill 637, gave the state Department of Finance and Administration the rights to sell the property. The District Land Development Company's payment for the land will go to the Mississippi School for the Blind, now located across Eastover Drive from its former location.
On Monday, Duckworth said he was excited to finally purchase the property. The plans for The District at Eastover, at the corner of the Interstate 55 North Frontage Road and Eastover Drive, include 500,000 square feet of retail, hotel, restaurant, office and residential space, Duckworth said. The company will build the project in phases, with construction of the first phase beginning in fall of this year.
"We think it's a four-to-seven-year build-out," Duckworth said. "We think the first building will be delivered sometime in the summer of 2014."
Duckworth expects the completed District at Eastover to generate about 600 jobs and, potentially, about $1.9 million in annual revenue to the city and $4.9 million to the state. However, the biggest benefit for Jackson will come from retaining growth in the city, Duckworth said.
Kevin J. Upchurch, executive director of the Department of Finance and Administration, agrees. "We believe that this project will spark tremendous economic development opportunities and growth for Jackson and Mississippi," he said in a statement.
"It is going to generate property taxes and sales taxes, but even bigger than that is really just the ability to be able to maintain some growth in the marketplace," Duckworth said. "There's been so much growth (outside Jackson). ... Had there been a site in the city, a lot of those things wouldn't have occurred."
The District at Eastover has an advantage over suburban development, because the population is already close by. During the day, three times as many people live and work within a five-minute drive of the location than in Ridgeland, Duckworth said. And the development will help keep the population in Jackson and give them a nearby place to go.
Unlike some of the mixed-used developments in the suburbs, which provide little more to look at than concrete, brick and mortar, Duckworth said The District will keep many of the existing trees as part of green spaces for residents and visitors.
"We just want to have that feel that this is a place where you want to go hang out," Duckworth said.
Chris Mims, director of communications for Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., said the city has been communicating with Duckworth Realty about the project for years.
"Ted Duckworth is really a pioneer in mixed-used development here in the city of Jackson," Mims said.
"He worked on the Electric Building. It was an office building that he transformed into a mixed-used development that has apartments in the upper floors and now has a couple of restaurants located there."
Duckworth said he doesn't expect any costs to the city for infrastructure changes, because the Interstate 55 Frontage Road and Eastover Drive provide plenty of street access to the property, and the property already has sufficient water and sewage access.
While interest in the project has been stirring for years, Duckworth said that until it purchased the land, The District Land Development Company had nothing physical to offer potential partners. As such, it has yet to finalize building contractors, or hotel, restaurant, office and retail partnerships.
The School for the Blind will use part of the sum paid for the land, $1.2 million, to build a storage and maintenance building on its current campus, located across Eastover Drive from its former campus, as well as a new residence for the school's superintendent, Rosie L.T. Pridgen. The remainder of the $3.3 million will go into the School for the Blind Trust Fund.
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