Cool Little Duling

Real estate developer Mike Peters is looking to expand the successful cultural renaissance at Fondren Corner across Duling Avenue, and will officially unveil his vision Nov. 17, at the Fondren Unwrapped holiday open house.

Peters says he has huge plans for Duling School, which will be closing up at the end of this year.

"The school board is going to finish out this semester. They'll go home for Christmas holidays, and they won't come back," said Peters, who worked out an ownership deal earlier this year with Jackson Public Schools. "We'll take over in January. We'll start getting prepared and begin breaking ground in spring and open 12 or 18 months later."

What Peters has planned is the complete conversion of the Duling School building and the construction of two other adjoining projects, one on the corner of Duling Avenue and State Street, the other cornering Duling and Old Canton Road. Peters said the only thing he's sure of at this point is that the new buildings will be mid-risers similar to Fondren Corner, a mixed-use building that has become a symbol of the city's artistic awakening. Duling Street will differ from Fondren in scope, however. Fondren Corner features apartments amid the offices and boutiques. Duling will sport condominiums running $200,000 or more.

The whole project, called Fondren Place, will come in three flavors: residential areas called The Flats, because of their one-story architecture; commercial retail businesses in the new buildings called The Commons at Fondren Place; and the converted Duling School, soon to be christened Duling Market at Fondren Place.

Peters said he envisions Duling Market consisting of "all kinds of cool little trendy art galleries, photographer galleries and trendy shops." He describes a setting filled with people working, living, shopping and carousing in areas filled with good smells and great music.

"We're creating all these cool little courtyards and sidewalks and outside vignettes with seating places, and we want this place to be a happening market where people just wander around and sit and eat outside and wander through these different buildings," said Peters, who has some fairly big names added to the list of interested businesses.

"I've got all kinds of dress shops, gift shops and jewelry shops and Basil's, which will be moving to a bigger location there (from Fondren Corner). I've also got Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, and I have a Starbucks," Peters said. "We're really ready to get going on this. It's going to be exciting."

Many Jackson residents and visitors point a wary finger to the territory on the West side of State Street, a mere handful of streets away to the north. Ward 1 Councilman Ben Allen has frankly called it "a war zone," on his morning radio show, and in the past the area has been the site of numerous burglaries and an unhealthy smattering of structural decay.

Fondren, the city's first "suburb," exploded with development in the baby boomer years following the end of World War II. Peters says the area is making a return trip back from decay, however.

"The West side of State Street has been deteriorating, but it, in my opinion, hit its bottom several years ago and is now on a trend back up," Peters said.

"Are there still some pockets of deterioration? Yes, but if you travel through the area, you can see people are starting to put money back into these houses. I think the area is getting ready to come alive again."

Allen French, president of Real Estate Solutions, is certainly banking on new life in the district. French has been quickly acquiring a block of property behind the Que Sera Sera restaurant, including the vacant Woodlands Restaurant, on State Street. He said he's planning to build a very sizeable collection of high-end condominiums to accommodate University Medical Center Students.

"It's not geared just toward students, but there was a recent survey asking UMC students if they'd be willing to live within a mile of the (UMC) campus, and 95 percent of the students polled said yes," French said.

"We're basically not only trying to change the dynamics of Fondren, but we feel that if we do this thing right, we could possibly change the perception of the city of Jackson and maybe help make Fondren a destination point."


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