Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Development of the Farish Street Entertainment District got a shot in the arm this month. Farish Street developer Performa Entertainment Real Estate Inc., announced the closure of a $1 million Trustmark Bank loan for Phase 1 of the district's $12 million re-development. The money puts the finishing touches on plans for the King Biscuit Café and Funny Bone Comedy Club.
The loan comes via Mississippi Development Authority and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District. John Elkington, president of Performa's Mississippi division said in a press release that the loan means the company will be able to secure more funding for Phase 2 of the project, which includes the development of B.B. King's Blues Club, a combination entertainment venue and restaurant featuring southern cuisine.
The entertainment project has been in the works since 1996, stalled by a slew of issues including funding shortages, structural problems in the buildings and the traditional red tape associated with building inside a designated historical district. Developers say the delays have made getting funding for Phase 2 difficult.
"Because of previous failed attempts to develop Farish Street, many lenders were reluctant to participate in this project," Elkington said. "But, thanks to the work of (MDA Executive Director) Gray (Swoope), (former MDA Director) Leland (Speed) and Sen. (Merle) Flowers, (R-Southaven), and others, we not only have Phase 1 funding in place, we have an established process that will allow for expedited funding approval for the remaining phases of the redevelopment."
Jackson Mayor Frank Melton is highly critical of the project, recommending the city remove Performa from the endeavor and go with a different developer. The Jackson Redevelopment Authority, which initially handed Performa the contract for the renovation, said it has tolerated the delays and setbacks because of the unique qualities Performa brings to the table.
"Rebuilding Farish Street into a successful entertainment district requires a company with the experience to tie venues to the area," JRA President Brent Alexander told the Jackson Free Press in November 2007. "It would be hard to locate another developer with ties to businesses like King Biscuit, like Funny Bone. They have experience doing this kind of work."
Performa Vice president of Development Cato Walker said the state clearly wanted to move the project ahead.
"It's a low-interest loan. It's a reasonable amount of interest, but it's not exorbitant," Walker said. "In 60 days we anticipate the tenants to be able to come in and start doing their interior work on the King Biscuit and Funny Bone. And I'll be making calls today to see when we're going to start getting the building with the metal shoring on Wet Willie's."
The timing is closely in sync with other nearby developments such as the completion of the multi-use King Edward project and the Pinnacle. The King Edward, which will feature condominiums and street-level retail, is slated for completion before the end of next year. The Pinnacle, a collection of offices and retail, should be finished by the end of this year.
The residential population provided by downtown developments like King Edward could help foster an environment that would be friendly to the district. A Minnesota non-profit, Hope Development, wants to bring in more residential housing directly north of the entertainment district. Last week, company associates presented a $65 million plan to develop the area near the Mississippi College School of Law into a multi-income, mixed-use area. The project design, according to Hope representatives, includes almost 60 low-to middle-income apartments and almost 20 townhouse buildings and space for commercial development. The development will also cater to the nearby law school, with almost 70 apartments designed for students and additional space dedicated to college-related projects, such as office space and classrooms. Developers predict some portions of the development could be finished in two years.
Local rapper and Jackson Free Press columnist Kamikaze, of the Historic Farish Street Neighborhood Foundation and a frequent gadfly to Performa and its delays, said he is withholding judgment on both Performa's new funding and Hope Development's plans.
"I'm going to hold my expectations until I actually see something done," said Kamikaze, who is also known as Brad Franklin. "Hope's presentation was impressive, and the residential aspect that they're planning is absolutely necessary for that area down there ... but I'm not going to be enthused just yet."
Alexander could not be reached for comment on Hope Development's presentation, but Kamikaze said he doubted JRA would agree to any development that didn't come with a strict timeline after dealing with Performa.