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VOL. 120 | NO. 239 | Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Downtown Rebirth on Tap for Southaven

City uses incentives to lure businesses to 51 & Main area

By Tracy Adams

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BUSINESS ACTIVITY: Eric Huber, top, and Joseph Poulin of Tri-State Signs prepare to erect a sign for relocating Southaven business 301 Tax Service to State Line Road from state Highway 301. -- Photograph By Tracy Adams

It's been five years since the city of Southaven and Southaven Chamber of Commerce officials launched a joint project aimed at reviving the city's downtown business district.

Since its launch, the project has helped to create a resurgence of activity in an area of the city once neglected as businesses and their customers fled south to Goodman Road.

"Southaven truly is more than Goodman Road," said Whitney Choat, Southaven city planner. "We're all excited about the growth on Goodman and the growth that is moving even farther south. But we are equally committed and excited about the 51 & Main Street District and what's going on there."

Town center. The Southaven Chamber named the area along U.S. Highway 51 and State Line Road/Main Street the 51 & Main Street District.

"Southaven doesn't really have a traditional downtown," said Ginger Adams, the chamber's executive director. "But this is downtown ... where City Hall is and the police station."

The number of businesses along State Line and Highway 51 saw a dramatic reduction after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opened a Supercenter on Goodman Road. Because Wal-Mart carries with it a guaranteed customer base, many larger businesses and national franchises moved with it to Goodman Road, leaving behind several empty buildings. And fillings those buildings became a priority for the city and chamber of commerce.

To ensure the area would receive the attention needed to facilitate its rebirth, the Southaven Chamber formed the 51 & Main Street District Association, which is composed of business owners and a few homeowners in the district. Since the revitalization project began in 2000, more than 200 businesses have moved to the downtown area, and several existing businesses have reported some level of growth, said Sandra Griffis, 51 & Main Street District Association president.

Growing the district. As a part of the Southaven Chamber, the main function of the 51 & Main Street District Association is to find ways to improve the district, attract new businesses and help existing businesses in their efforts to grow and expand.

"Southaven truly is more than Goodman Road. We're all excited about the growth on Goodman and the growth that is moving even farther south. But we are equally committed and excited about the 51 & Main Street District and what's going on there."
- Whitney Choat
city planner, Southaven

The association works with businesses in the district and Southaven officials to find new ways to attract businesses while encouraging existing companies to stay, said Paul Wardlaw, a 51 & Main Street Association board member.

Talks between the district and the city have resulted in the passing of several ordinances that have tightened restrictions on new and existing buildings in an effort to ensure "the attractiveness of the area," Choat said.

The ordinances were followed by an incentive package designed to make building new office space and updating old office space affordable for most of the small firms that populate the district, she said.

Business incentives. The chamber, with help from city officials and local banks, has put together a tax incentive and bank loan package that has increased interest in the district, especially among smaller firms, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis said.

New businesses that qualify for the incentives can receive a seven-year freeze on the current property tax rate. Existing businesses as well as new firms also can apply for special 1 percent loans from Southaven banks. And the city's building and planning departments have been authorized to waive permit and application fees for qualifying firms within the district.

In addition to financial incentives, the chamber has invested in beautification efforts in the 51 & Main area that include new signage displaying the 51 & Main Street District logo and several landscaping projects.

Attracting new tenants. City and chamber officials also are working to fill empty office space in the district, Adams said, adding that much progress has been made in the past five years to repopulate empty buildings. The district and the city suffered a sizeable setback when Sears Inc., parent company of Kmart, closed the only remaining big-box retailer in the area in September, Choat said.

However, city officials quickly found a new tenant for the building.

"Burlington Coat Factory will locate in part of the building," Choat said. "Getting someone in that space was a major priority for the chamber and the city. The incentives we offer all businesses interested in relocating to the district were a big draw for Burlington."

In addition to the city's incentive packages, Southaven officials have made a commitment to invest in the 51 & Main Street District.

New amenities. Those investments will include construction of a farmers' market and new fire station on State Line Road. Construction on the fire station is currently under way, with a completion date set for early 2006. City officials will close the existing Fire Station No. 1 and relocate it to the new building, Davis said. The abandoned station will be used to house other city offices, officials said.

A new library also will be built in the 51 & Main Street District as part of the revitalization project. The library will be located between City Hall and the Southaven Police Department, Davis said.

"We have always wanted to create a municipal complex where all city services are located in one central location," he said. "This is a step in that direction, and it will hopefully bring more people into the 51 & Main Street area where there are great places to eat and shop."

Library project. The new Southaven Library is a $5.5 million project that will include meeting rooms, a coffee shop, book store and dozens of new computers.

The project is being funding through a 2-mill property tax increase that will be used to repay a $4.5 million bond city officials approved earlier this year. The DeSoto County Board of Supervisors will pay the remaining $1 million.

The new library will be part of the First Regional Library System, which is funded in part by the county.

Construction on the 40,000-square-foot library is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2006.

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064