Every Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., the Jackson Chamber of Commerce sponsors Koinonia Friday Forum at Koinonia Coffee House. The agenda for these forums is simple: a speaker gives a presentation for about 30 minutes and for the final 30 minutes, the speaker dialogs with the audience with questions and comments. This morning’s Forum was similar to the rest. A mixture of people of various ages and races quietly sipped coffee and nibbled on scones as David Watkins, CEO of Watkins Partners, began to explain his vision for the redevelopment of Metrocenter Mall.
Before we get into David’s plan for Metrocenter, let’s discuss the mall itself. Constructed in 1978, Metrocenter Mall touted 1.25 million square feet of shopping space and immediately became the largest shopping destination in Mississippi (in terms of square footage). One hundred and twenty stores lined the Metrocenter’s two-level interior and Gayfers, Dillards, Sears, and McRae’s department stores served as anchor tenants. The mall was seen as easily accessible with its adjacency to U.S. Highway 80, Mississippi Highway 18, Interstate 20, and the under construction Interstate 220. While outparcel developments near the mall were limited, stores such as Service Merchandise, K-Mart, Toys-R-Us, and a four-screen Cinema eventually settled near the mall.
Thirty-two years (and a couple renovations) later, Metrocenter has lost the luster that it had in its heyday. Overgrown weeds have replaced the site where Service Merchandise used to be. Dillards, McRae’s/Belk, and Gayfers have left the shopping center along with smaller national retailers such as The Gap, Express, and Nine West.
Not all is lost at Metrocenter. Sears, Victoria’s Secret, Footaction, and Foot Locker have been mainstays in the mall. The mall has also successfully recruited Burlington Coat Factory to occupy a portion of the space in which Gayfers once operated. Nevertheless, the abundance of vacant storefronts within the mall is a direct indicator that Metrocenter Mall is in dire need of some attention.
And that brings us back to David Watkins. Locals know David as the face of downtown redevelopment. He has helped put together deals that include the revitalization of the King Edward Hotel–a facility that had seen more pigeons than people in 20 years before it was restored earlier this year. Other projects the developer is involved in include the conversion of the 18-story Standard Life building into residential units and the creation of an entertainment district one block away on Farish Street. David has been busy with his downtown developments, but recently, he has found a new opportunity in West Jackson.
Before a packed house at Koinonia, David explained that his company had recently acquired the former McRae’s/Belk building at the Metrocenter Mall. He is proposing to convert the 120,000 square foot former department store into modern office space for Jackson Public School District’s administrative offices. The newly renovated facility would also include an Arts Plaza to permanently display student, teacher, and guest artwork and a Performing Arts Theater to be used periodically for JPS-related musical, choral, and theatrical performances.
David sees this proposal as an economic development opportunity. By relocating JPS’s employees to the Metrocenter, the mall would see an instant increase in foot traffic to its existing businesses. This foot traffic will be expounded by any performances/art showings that may attract parents, friends, and families to the mall. The increase in people in the mall will benefit the existing businesses, but it can also serve as a tool to convince more retailers to locate in the mall.
David’s vision doesn’t stop at Belk. He sees the Metrocenter Mall being redeveloped as a mixed use community–complete with a movie theater, pharmacy, condos, and apartments. He also envisions an indoor water recreation facility that would include water slides, a wave pool, and indoor water skiing.
David Watkins’ vision is grand. His thoughts of including unique residential options along with retail and recreation that is unique to Metro Jackson is exactly what West Jackson needs. These types of developments would set West Jackson apart by making it a destination area. Nevertheless, David believes that tenant that could serve as the seed for redevelopment of Metrocenter Mall is the Jackson Public School District. Whether that seed gets planted rests in the hands of the School Board.
Let us know your thoughts. What are your feelings about David Watkins’ proposal.
For more details on this proposal, visit http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/v3/images/documents/JPS++METRO+CENTER-edit+7-20-20101.pdf