By BECKY GILLETTE
Ground was broken March 23 on the $35-million District at Midtown mixed-used development that will take up an entire block at Hardy Street and 31st Avenue across from the University of Southern Mississippi.
While this isn’t a new industrial development, it still packs a whammy when it comes to job creation. It is estimated that 200 people will be employed in the seven-acre development that will include a 100-room Indigo Hotel, seven restaurants, 14 luxury apartments, retail shops and service industries that will be within walking distance of the 7,500 medical professionals and USM staff employed in the area, plus 14,552 students.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who spoke at the groundbreaking, said modernizing communities to make them more livable is a key component of local economic development.
“I am confident the District at Midtown will do exactly that for Hattiesburg, and I am grateful to everyone involved for making the project a reality,” Bryant said.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said the District at Midtown is a game changer that is a critical first step in the redevelopment of the entire Midtown.
The project located on the site of the former Elam Arms dormitory and parking lot has been in the planning for a decade, said Todd Jackson, vice president of economic development for the Area Development Partnership (ADP).
“The overarching goal is to create a walkable, workable, livable mixed-use community that connects people to living, shopping, dining and the like,” Jackson said. “Especially for college students and medical professionals, we really believe Midtown will allow people who are at work or in class to take a break to get a good meal or do some quick shopping. New development is exciting, but this is especially exciting because it is such an important part of the city. It is one of the first dominos to fall in Midtown. We believe there will be much more redevelopment or new development in that area. The groundbreaking was a great opportunity to capitalize on the momentum and spur more interest in the area.”
Jackson said the developers spent a lot of time working with the city and county to make the development a reality.
Rob Tatum, principal, CR Properties, LLC, said they started work on the project in August 2014 after submitting a Request For Proposals (RFP) to purchase the land from USM.
“We are elated to be breaking ground on a project that brings in a unique boutique hotel and adds restaurants and retailers that will be well received in the marketplace,” Tatum said. “Along with our many partnering entities, we are thrilled to be making such a strategic investment in the core of Hattiesburg.”
Tatum said a lot goes into working on a type of form-based planning and zoning that hasn’t been used before in Hattiesburg.
“The Midtown zoning district is new to Hattiesburg,” Tatum said. “We are the first major project that had to meet the new zoning code. They have a special review committee for projects at Midtown.”
Because the land was public property, there were a lot of government approvals that had to be signed off on by all layers of government including the Institutions for Higher Learning because of it being university land, the Department of Finance and Administration and ultimately the governor.
“We also ran into some surveying issues that required approval of the legislature,” Tatum said. “Sounds easy, but it was very time consuming.”
Tatum and his brother, Craig, are partners in CR Properties. The Tatums and David Oliver partnered with Luke Chamblee on the Indigo Hotel, and partnered with Allen Hawkins on the retail. Larry Albert is the architect for the retail portion of the property.
“We brought in people on the team with experience in that type of real estate development,” Tatum said. “What has been great about this project is the public-private partnership that has made it come about. Putting all those puzzle pieces together to make it work is not easy. I have done projects in other areas where roadblocks were put in the way. Living in a city that is pro economic development, it is fun to do a project when everyone wants the project to happen. The city, the state, USM, Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic all worked together to make it happen.”
No two Hotel Indigo are the same. According to the Hotel Indigo website, each draws on the story of its local area to inspire every aspect of the hotel, from intriguing design to distinctive local ingredients in their menus. So visitors can expect hotel rooms that are personalized to Hattiesburg with décor representing USM, the timber industry and railroads.
Jackson said the retail and restaurant storefronts will line Hardy Street on the northern end of the project and along 31st Avenue. These will include Fuzzy’s Tacos, Newk’s Eatery, Pyro’s Pizza, Chicken Salad Chick, 5-Star Nutrition, AT&T and Hancock Bank locations, and The Midtowner , which is a brunch concept restaurant by local chef Robert St. John.
CR Properties is also the developer of The Claiborne at Hattiesburg, a senior living community that offers independent living, assisted living, and memory care. CR Properties also was the developer for the Hub City Lofts restoration of the Carter Building and the America Building in Hattiesburg’s Downtown District.
The City of Hattiesburg and Forrest County came together to approve a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District to help finance infrastructure improvements for the area that will be repaid by tax revenues.
Construction for the projects are expected to last 12-14 months.