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Jackson State University Takes on Many Roles to Improve West Jackson, Mississippi
Residents of neighborhoods immediately west of downtown Jackson, Mississippi, have established neighborhood associations, formed cooperative alliances, and collaborated with local institutions to improve social and economic conditions created by significant population loss and disinvestment over the past 40 years. Jackson State University (JSU), the fourth largest of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities and the largest anchor institution in West Jackson, is an important resource in the community’s revitalization efforts. The slowly recovering economy in the region and reduced state assistance limit how the university can assist in West Jackson’s revitalization. Nevertheless, JSU is committed to helping improve the state capital while also expanding its enrollment, faculty and staff, and academic programs. Although West Jackson residents hope that JSU’s growth results in their own economic betterment, they also worry that the expanding school might overtake the residential community they call home. In this push and pull between adversity and aspiration, the university and the community have found ways to make noticeable improvements that they hope will lead to even greater progress in the near future.
The Center for University-Based Development
JSU has recently taken several steps to shore up its relationship with its neighbors. One step was to reorganize the university’s activities to improve community outreach. In 2012, then-president Carolyn Meyers created the Office of Community Engagement as a central point of contact with the community. At the same time, the university refocused its existing Center for University-Based Development (CUBD) from its original objective of campus development to redevelopment activities within one mile of the school that require community partnerships. In addition, JSU revised its master plan for campus development to reflect community wishes by directing university-related growth to the east, away from the established neighborhoods on the university’s other three sides.
The university’s most ambitious activity has been real estate development. One University Place, which opened in 2010, sits at a pivotal location between the eastern edge of JSU’s campus and downtown Jackson. The $18 million mixed-use project is the first major off-campus development in West Jackson in 30 years. Designed to be a new activity center that attracts residents and businesses to West Jackson, the 4-story building includes 78 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. All the apartments have been rented, although the occupied commercial space is down from its peak of 60 percent as businesses ending their initial 5-year leases adjust to their experiences in this new market area.
CUBD was instrumental in One University Place’s early planning stages, and the Jackson State University Development Foundation brought the project to fruition. The foundation, which provided a loan for predevelopment costs, was able to bundle permanent financing that included federal and state new markets tax credits purchased by Trustmark Bank, which also provided a loan. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation and Hampton Roads Ventures, a community development firm that invests in severely distressed neighborhoods, also provided funding. In addition, the foundation agreed to assume management of University Place of Jackson, the planned 50-acre district for which One University Place is the first phase. The goal of the planned district, which might include single-family houses, multifamily apartments, and commercial buildings, is to create a strong connection to downtown Jackson by reactivating vacant land with modern buildings and attractive public spaces.
Other University Activities
Milestones in the development of University Place are among the news items that CUBD publishes in the West Jackson blog, founded in response to residents concerned about West Jackson’s reputation in the rest of the city. CUBD devotes staff, equipment, and other resources to maintain the website, which publicizes neighborhood improvements and community events. In another recent project, CUBD convened a series of meetings with a design firm and residents interested in beautifying the community; they came up with designs for gateways along important West Jackson streets. CUBD has also created an information center for residents about the city’s Neighbors First program, which gives homeowners and nonprofits preference in acquiring city-owned lots in single-family zoning districts.
The university’s School of Public Health Initiative, which is expected to become Mississippi’s first school of public health in spring 2017, has participated in the Jackson Heart Study for 16 years. The study tracked and evaluated the health, eating habits, and exercise levels of more than 4,000 African Americans in the Jackson area. JSU staff are conducting training sessions and helping community health advisory networks tell residents about study findings. The university’s Alice Varnado Harden Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning, which introduces faculty and students to engagement opportunities available at local agencies and organizations, is another major outreach effort. The center administers JSU’s graduation requirement that all students complete at least 120 hours of service learning or community service.
Other West Jackson Partners
JSU collaborates with effective community organizations that have additional resources to revitalize West Jackson. JSU helped to found one of those organizations, the West Jackson Community Development Corporation (WJCDC), 25 years ago. WJCDC works with five neighborhood associations and community residents to improve social and economic conditions in West Jackson. WJCDC actively engages other community organizations and the city of Jackson to provide housing, economic development, youth enrichment, and leadership training. Designated as the city’s first community housing development organization in 1994, WJCDC has been able to use Jackson’s Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships programs to rehabilitate and build new affordable housing as well as provide rental assistance, homeownership counseling, and other housing-related services.
JSU’s revitalization efforts have included collaboration with the Voice of Calvary Ministries (VOCM). A major program began in 2010, when VOCM convened a meeting with JSU representatives and community leaders to discuss the need for a West Jackson revitalization plan based on community input. Building on the impetus of One University Place, VOCM’s financing of $5 million in housing rehabilitation, and several new commercial investments, the plan was intended to coordinate future investments to realize residents’ and business owners’ vision for their community. In direct response to residents’ wishes, the plan changed from being yet another list of policies and recommendations to becoming the West Jackson Planning Guidebook, which presents information “residents can use to gain political, social and economic power to change their neighborhoods for the better.” Phil Reed, president of VOCM, notes that his organization regularly refers to the 2014 guidebook in its community development activities, such as the improvement of Claiborne Park, 16 acres of open space with walking trails and other amenities.
Working for More Progress
The guidebook is available for other organizations as well as residents and entrepreneurs. Many redevelopment ideas have been discussed, but major activities seem to be on hold while the local economy improves. Although WJCDC now focuses on youth development through education and job training, the organization is looking for feasible sites and partners to construct or rehabilitate multifamily housing for low- and moderate-income families. VOCM is considering projects such as student housing, housing for individuals experiencing homelessness, and mixed-use development. The Jackson State University Development Foundation continues to explore options for student housing and a stadium east of the campus. According to Reed, JSU and its development foundation pioneered the area’s revitalization with One University Place. Plans for the remainder of University Place of Jackson and further campus development are expected to drive additional development by others. In the meantime, JSU remains actively involved in West Jackson in various ways — as an advocate, convener, networker, and partner — offering its human resources and facilities to the community whenever possible.
Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016; Duvall Decker Architects and Voice of Calvary Ministries. 2014. “West Jackson Planning Guidebook.” Accessed 15 September 2016; Stephanie Gallardo. 2016. “Largest HBCU in the Nation: Top 10 Black Colleges by Enrollment,” HBCU Lifestyle, 27 May. Accessed 10 October 2016; National Association of College and University Business Officers. 2007. “Communities of Opportunity: Smart Growth Strategies for Colleges and Universities,” 18. Accessed 21 October 2016; Ronald Roach. 2007. “The Journey for Jackson State,” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 23, 22–7. Accessed 3 October 2016; Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. n.d. “Cuts to Mississippi’s Higher Education System Jeopardize Our Economic Future.” Accessed 10 October 2016; Sara Miller. 2016. “Governor Announces Budget Cuts; Rainy Day Funds Mitigate the Blow,” Hope Policy Institute blog, 22 January. Accessed 20 September 2016.×
Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016.×
Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016; Jackson State University. 2010. “One University Place opens next to JSU campus,” press release, 5 October. Accessed 6 September 2016; Interview with Jason Brookins, business operations manager, Jackson State University Development Foundation, 29 September 2016.×
Jackson State University. 2010. “One University Place opens next to JSU campus,” press release, 5 October. Accessed 6 September 2016; Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016; Hampton Roads Ventures. n.d. “Who We Are.” Accessed 3 October 2016; Jackson State University Development Foundation. n.d. “Audited Consolidated Financial Statements: Year Ended June 30, 2014.” Accessed 4 October 2016.×
Jackson State University. 2010. “One University Place opens next to JSU campus,” press release, 5 October. Accessed 6 September 2016; Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016; Mary M. White. 2015. “Community Engagement End of the Year Highlights: FY 2014–15.” Accessed 4 October 2016; Center for University-Based Development. 2016. “West Jackson: Home.” Accessed 4 October 2016; City of Jackson, Mississippi. n.d. “Neighbors First Program.” Accessed 4 October 2016.×
Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016; Ronald Roach. 2015. “Jackson State Launches State’s First School of Public Health,” Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 18 May. Accessed 5 October 2016; Jackson State University. 2017. “School of Public Health Initiative.” Accessed 14 February 2017; Jackson State University. 2016. “Jackson Heart Study is turning sweet sixteen,” press release, 29 August. Accessed 3 October 2016; Jackson State University. n.d. “Alice Varnado Harden Center for Service and Community Engaged Learning.” Accessed 5 October 2016; Jackson State University. n.d. “Service Hours Needed for Graduation.” Accessed 5 October 2016.×
West Jackson Community Development Corporation. 2011. “About West Jackson CDC.” Accessed 5 October 2016; West Jackson Community Development Corporation. 2011. “History.” Accessed 5 October 2016; Interview with Linda H. Carter, chief executive officer and executive director of West Jackson Community Development Corporation, 11 October 2016; West Jackson Community Development Corporation. 2011. “Housing Development.” Accessed 5 October 2016.×
Document provided by Phil Reed; Interview with Phil Reed, 20 September 2016; Duvall Decker Architects and Voice of Calvary Ministries. 2014. “West Jackson Planning Guidebook.” Accessed 15 September 2016.×
Interview with Phil Reed, 20 September 2016; Interview with Jason Brookins, business operations manager, Jackson State University Development Foundation, 29 September 2016; Interview with Kimberly Hilliard, executive assistant to the president for special initiatives, Jackson State University, 16 September 2016.×