By Samantha Adams, Assistant Life Editor
Construction is under way to convert a 17-acre piece of land near Highland Avenue and the West Tennessee Farmers Market into a new city walk, the largest part of a revitalization project for downtown Jackson.
The project will consist of 150 apartments, two small retail and commercial centers and a large wellness center owned and operated by West Tennessee Healthcare. In the past six months, about 20 single-family homes in nearby neighborhoods also have been torn down to be replaced with new homes.
The wellness center and retail centers are on schedule to be completed by January 2013, and the apartments should be ready for residents in March 2013.
Katie Pace, executive director of the Jackson Downtown Development Corp., which encourages activity and growth downtown, said the new living area is the extra push the center of the city needed to develop into a lively community again. Commercial and residential expansion in the northern part of Jackson during the past few decades has drawn many residents away from the downtown area.
Former Downtown Development board member and lifelong Jackson resident Hal Crocker, president of Crocker Construction Co., created Healthy Community LLC in partnership with Henry Turley, president of the Henry Turley Co., a real estate business that has for the last 30 years facilitated urban-revitalization projects in Memphis.
“It’s taken several years to make the case (for a revitalization project), and then put the different pieces together, then get the finances together, then execute the plan,” Crocker said.
Three years ago, Healthy Community presented its proposal to the city and was chosen to be the master developer for the revitalization projects at the city walk and in two nearby residential areas.
Crocker said the development company’s name describes its goal. The Healthy Community revitalization projects will help to create healthy neighborhoods not only through wise health habits but also through thoughtful city planning and upkeep, Crocker said.
The placement of a large wellness center in the middle of the city walk will make the physically healthy lifestyle focus obvious, Crocker said. The 82,000-square-foot Living Fit in Tennessee wellness center, referred to as the LIFT, is designed to be a center for preventative health care.
Crocker said the LIFT will include a state-of-the-art fitness center for which membership will be open to anyone, and city walk residents will receive a discount.
A rock climbing wall and a rope course will be used for recreation and team-building activities.
It also will serve as a walk-in clinic, medical referral service center for physical and occupational therapy and a place to take classes on subjects ranging from diabetes prevention to healthy cooking.
“If we’re all healthier, it’s really a less expensive thing for the community,” Crocker said. “It’s also good for industrial recruitment. It’s interesting that new industries … look at how healthy we are, because it reflects on what their health care costs are going to be as an industry. It reflects on how many days people are going to miss when they work in the plant.”
The other economic impact of the city walk and the replacement homes built in nearby neighborhoods likely will not be from the retailers who occupy the new space but from the increase in the residential tax base and new and growing businesses downtown, Crocker said.
Turley has seen real estate investments similar to the Jackson project succeed. He has been a leader in a phenomenon known as “New Urbanism,” in which a company builds, refurbishes or replaces older, often-dilapidated residential and commercial buildings in largely-abandoned urban areas to entice people to move to those communities.
Because growth is easier at the perimeter of cities, it often is more profitable for developers to invest there instead of in the downtown areas, Turley said.
His company differs, however, because it takes on redevelopment projects to create a more balanced city. He said he believes each neighborhood should be a vital aspect of the community.
“Healthy Community’s job is to create a successful development that everyone takes pride in,” Turley said. “That will encourage others to join in the redevelopment of the older parts of Jackson.”