who have faith in downtown Jackson
are working to prove this city's
spirit can be tested but not
broken by Mother Nature.
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.
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.
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.
tornado did tremendous physical
and emotional damage, Dickson
admits, but "it created
some opportunities, too."
merchant's association, which
had 19 members show up at its
first meeting, is one of those.
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
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
calls what has happened in the
last two years the "renaissance
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
new constructions. All totaled,
private investment in downtown
Jackson topped $10.88 million
vacancy rate for all existing
buildings, including those that
still need remodeling, is 35%.
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
can't convert the space fast
enough, she says.
last month the New Southern
Hotel, an 88-unit senior housing
complex heavily damaged by the
2003 tornado, held its rededication.
of the only pieces of the redevelopment
puzzle that's missing are eating
favorites like the Baker's Rack
and Dixie Castle meet some of
the demand, but not enough.
A Subway that recently opened
says what the downtown needs
is a coffee shop and a couple
more locally-owned eateries
that will offer evening fare.
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.
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.
that happens," she says,
"it will change the face
of downtown forever."