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    The Dickson Gallery of Fine Art, Jackson, Tennessee

"Downtown Jackson coming back bigger, better
two years after tornado disaster"

by Christopher Sheffield
November 4-10, 2005: Memphis Business Journal


Downtown Jackson coming back bigger,
better two years after tornado disaster

By Christopher Sheffield

       Those who have faith in downtown Jackson are working to prove this city's spirit can be tested but not broken by Mother Nature.
       In May 2003 the core of this city was virtually leveled by early morning tornadoes that cut through the center of town. More than 1,700 homes, nearly 400 commercial buildings and many municipal buildings, including city hall, were destroyed or heavily damaged.
      But out of one of the worst natural distasters to hit this West Tennessee community in more than a generation has risen a new energy, a new game plan.
      "I hate to say this, but the tornado did a good thing for downtown," says Rachel Dickson, owner of the new Dickson Gallery, a rental/consignment gallery, and the force behind a merchant's association which began meeting in July.
      The tornado did tremendous physical and emotional damage, Dickson admits, but "it created some opportunities, too."
      The merchant's association, which had 19 members show up at its first meeting, is one of those.
      To call what's happened in downtown Jackson in the last few years a revitalization is an understatement, says Mary Bearden, executive director of the Jackson Downtown Development Corp., an organization that itself has undergone a metamorphosis.
      The JDDC has been around for more than a decade, but in recent years the membership organization has gone from being primarily focused on supporting community events and promoting four annual festivals, to "rebuilding downtown, enhancing (downtown) nightlife and getting people downtown."
      She calls what has happened in the last two years the "renaissance of downtown."
      In 2004 alone, the 25-block area designated as a Tennessee Main Street, saw the addition of 100 new jobs, 12 new businesses, 21 rehabilitation projects and

seven new constructions. All totaled, private investment in downtown Jackson topped $10.88 million last year.
       The vacancy rate for all existing buildings, including those that still need remodeling, is 35%.
      Residential housing, which at one time was woefully in short supply, has begun to increase as well, Bearden says. She notes the popularity of second floor apartments in buildings like Liberty Square and the Pythian Building. This year alone, 15 upper floor apartments will have been built by the end of this month, and all are leased.
      Developers can't convert the space fast enough, she says.
      Just last month the New Southern Hotel, an 88-unit senior housing complex heavily damaged by the 2003 tornado, held its rededication.
      One of the only pieces of the redevelopment puzzle that's missing are eating establishments.
      Local favorites like the Baker's Rack and Dixie Castle meet some of the demand, but not enough. A Subway that recently opened stays busy.
      Bearden says what the downtown needs is a coffee shop and a couple more locally-owned eateries that will offer evening fare.
      Most recently plans have been unveiled for a proposed $16 million multi-phase entertainment, shopping and dining development in downtown's 52-acre entertainment district. Among the development's proposed features is a 17-screen cinema.
      Dickson, whose Dickson Gallery is just three blocks from the development, says business has been good, but this development, should it happen, would be the biggest thing to hit the downtown, since well, the tornado.
      "When that happens," she says, "it will change the face of downtown forever."

csheffield@bizjournals.com | 259-1726


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