Action Jackson: Mississippi Downtown Booms

August 20, 2007

by C.J. Hughes

The rejuvenation of downtown Jackson, Mississippi, was already under way before 2005, but it kicked into high gear following Hurricane Katrina. The Gulf Opportunity Zone Act boosted a preservation tax credit to 26 percent, up from 20 percent. Although this incentive expires next year, it has spurred the repair of older buildings—and new developments are under way, too. “Over the last six years, local developers took a special interest in downtown,” says John Lawrence, president of Downtown Jackson Partners, a nonprofit managing the renewal. “But now national investors are looking at us, and that’s exciting.”

Digital Water Pavilion
Photo: Courtesy Arquitectonica/© Jimmy Winstead
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Much of the development is concentrated at the central business district’s southeastern edge. More than $450 million of construction is anticipated or currently in progress, including hotel, office, and residential buildings. One project that adds a bit of everything is the King Edward Hotel, a 1923 palazzo-style edifice that is being reconfigured into a Hilton hotel, 60 apartments, and offices. Asbestos remediation in the 300,000-square-foot building, which has stood vacant since the 1960s, finished this spring, and the $75 million construction project will conclude in mid-2009. New Orleans-based Historic Restoration is handling the design.

A few blocks away, an all-new project is transforming several parking lots into the Telecom Center, a convention-center complex designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica in partnership with locally based Dale and Associates. The first section, an 85,400-square-foot theater-and-meeting-room facility with an anodized aluminum skin, opened last year. Its cavernous second story, whose frame resembles a flattened accordion pleat, cantilevers over a pedestal. An atrium features a 50-foot-tall window along its 100-yard length, providing clear views of Jackson’s skyline, making the space a popular venue for weddings. The balance of the convention center, encompassing another 259,000 square feet, is set for completion in January 2009. “We knew a project of this magnitude could really energize downtown Jackson,” says Bernardo Fort-Brescia, an Arquitectonica principal.

Other projects aim to do the same thing. The New York City–based H3 Hardy Collaboration designed a new federal courthouse that will be located nearby. Three large window walls will jut like TV screens from an articulated precast-concrete facade, allowing natural light into nine of 12 courtrooms, all of which will sport an unusual oval shape. Construction on the $115 million, 395,000-square-foot building will be completed in 2010.

Opening in June was the new Mississippi Museum of Art. Glavé & Holmes Associates, of Richmond, raised the roof of an existing masonry structure, creating window-lined eaves, and added a mahogany canopy that stretches to a fountain-lined plaza. The glass-fronted museum, with 54,000 square feet across its single level, plays off the large window of the Telecom Center across the street. Dale and Associates served as the local architect.

Dale is also consulting on Capital City Center, a $209 million mixed-use project that calls for 1.9 million square feet of hotels, 350 apartments, offices, and shops. It will occupy a prominent four-block site across from the convention center; an architect has yet to be chosen.

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