About a year ago I offered a spurious plan to convert Jackson from The Bold New City to the Bold Old City in a column entitled “Big Government Meets Tea Party Logic.” But now with the election of the Yarber administration in the wake of Mayor Lumumba’s untimely death, I am a bit more serious. The ideas offered in this column were prompted by Mayor Yarber’s recent listening tour to gather ideas from the electorate on how Jackson can regain its role as a dynamic Capital City in America’s new urban South. Other cities have transformed themselves from centers of urban decay into vital new municipal landscapes with something to offer its citizens and visitors other than crime, poverty and crumbling infrastructure. Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville, all in our neighboring state of Tennessee, come readily to mind. So why can’t Jackson transform itself into an urban force to be reckoned with as others in our region have? The answer is, to quote the President, “Yes We Can.” Okay, maybe we can.
First, the good. Unlike the aforementioned Tennessee cities, there is little chance Jackson is about to build a world-class aquarium or get an NBA or NFL franchise. But there are a lot of things going for us. Okay, there are at least a few things going for us. We are one of fifty capital cities in America. Besides being one of the top medical centers in the country (really), we often overlook the fact that we are one of the biggest college towns in America. These are all strengths on which to build.
When it comes to bad, can you say CRIME? The reality of crime leads to the perception of more crime than probably exists. This perception is poison for economic development. But since perception is reality, a giant campaign of zero tolerance of crime coupled with real community policing needs to be undertaken. The perception must be reversed and the true criminals taken off the streets. The program would also channel potential new generations of criminals into colleges and jobs instead of penitentiaries and chronic unemployment. If it can be done elsewhere, why not here in the Jackson city limits? This is a long-term goal, which requires parenting, school reform and community commitment. Yes, it is far from just a local problem, but without progress in this area, true urban transformation is nothing more than a pipe dream. Jackson would be better off settling for Third World Status forever. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad in this regard, especially when you add in genuinely nice, caring, hardworking people of every ethnicity here in Jackson. There is a reason why people from all over the world always compliment us on our friendliness and hospitality. That is exactly why I live here rather than several much larger, supposedly world-class cities where my career took me once upon a time. The positive human factor here far outweighs most of the bad.
There is a reason why people from all over the world always compliment us on our friendliness and hospitality.
As far as ugly goes, just take a drive on our moonscape streets while taking in all the abandoned, burned out housing. And then there is Jackson’s labyrinth of antique water pipes hidden from view. The only reason you know they are there are the daily geysers on city streets that make the city look like the poor man’s Yellowstone National Park without any of the natural beauty. What is more repelling to the business community or potential residents than third world infrastructure and horror movie aesthetics? Much of this is the product of decades of local government neglect all perched on a mound of twisting Yazoo Clay which is all the more reason that this should be the number one priority down at City Hall. The status quo spells third world hovel in which no one in their right mind would want to invest.
The latest in a long line of regressive losses for the Capital City is Southwest Airlines. Add that to the demise of the University Club, minor league baseball, every movie screen in town et al., and you see a city in decline. In fairness, Whole Foods got wedged into Highland Village and the District at Eastover looks like it may come to fruition, but there must be more, a whole lot more for Jackson to draw business investment and new residents.
The first step is for the Mayor and the Airport Authority to get down on their knees and beg Southwest to return. Rumor has it that the previous administration jacked up the landing fees at the airport which hastened the carrier to leave. It couldn’t have been empty seats of which I have never witnessed one on my many flights out of Jackson on the bargain airline, which is now nothing but a fond memory. In addition to Southwest’s superior service and a sense of humor, we are forced to pay a great deal more to the Big Three aka The Only Three thanks to our Anti-Trust NOT federal government. I am referring, of course to: D.E.L.T.A. (Doesn’t Ever Leave The Airport), American Vulture and United Against Consumers Airlines for which we now get to pay a great deal more in dollars to receive a great deal less in service, space and schedules. Please Mayor Yarber, do what is necessary to bring Southwest back.
In the best of all worlds, the Capital City would copy Nashville in adopting a Metro form of government. This would be the great economic leveler which would force those making their living in Jackson proper to share equally in the costs while reducing all of the myriad duplication of services in the metro area. But given the Republican legislature, Mary Hawkins Butler et al, it will never happen. But don’t lose hope; there is a more indirect way.
Proposal number one is to level the abandoned Sun’N Sand slum across the street from the New Capitol to add needed parking spaces. Next, buy the adjacent Barefield Complex next door and level that too. In addition to the parking spaces paid for by the state, some enterprising entrepreneur needs to build the 21st Century version of the Patio Club, an old lobbying water hole where drinks were consumed and deals were done by legislators and lobbyists, ostensibly on behalf of the Mississippi electorate. It worked out well because many of the out of town office holders lived at the Sun ‘N Sand during the legislative session. For that reason, some luxe condo rentals should be built on the site within easy access to the new “Club” for want of a better term. And what would the name of this new incarnation of the Patio Club be? Why, The Lobby, of course. Besides helping the economy, a special assessment of 1% of all lobbyists income would be levied. That would probably create enough revenue to pay for many of the other ideas in this column. To make up for alleged confiscatory inequities, Happy Hour would be in effect 24 hours a day. Talk about a win-win-win for everybody. As the kids would put it, “I’m Just Sayin’.”
How many years has it been since developer John McGowan offered his two lakes flood control — economic development plan for the Pearl River? Anyone who lived through the Easter Flood of ’79 knows the wisdom of such an initiative. And anyone who has ever been to the San Antonio Riverwalk knows the economic potential of urban waterfront property. So what do we get instead? The Town Creek Snakewalk and Tire Disposal Waterway which we have had as long as there have been poisonous water serpents in downtown Jackson. How about a little imagination or is that just asking too much?
And of course, you can’t talk about Jackson redevelopment without referencing Farish Street or as I like to think of it — The Ruins of Ephesus South. Who knows where this white elephant project stands. If it ever emerges from litigation, the City Fathers should take notes on the development of Fondren. Small and organic has worked there. So why not Farish Street? Yes, a Jackson Beale Street would be great, but you have to actually have tourists or at least people in numbers for that to work. As soon as we get our own version of the Fed Ex Forum, maybe, but until then, why not create incentives for local entrepreneurs to replicate what has happened in places like Fondren. The new generation of downtown dwellers would provide the base for such an approach. Scaled back realism beats grandiose impossibility almost every time. Oh yeah, speaking of that, jettison the Jackson State Domed Stadium idea once and for all, please.
These are just a few ideas. In the meantime, let’s all meet at the Renaissance in Madison County or Trustmark Park and the Shoppes in Pearl for some fun. Yes, Mayor Yarber, you are invited too, but, I would suggest you come in disguise so as not to raise the ire of your constituents. Bad optics are never good. Just watch cable news and read TMZ to fully understand this last piece of advice to the Mayor. Oh, and Good Luck Mayor Yarber — I suppose you already know you will need it.
Your Pal, The Captain