If you haven't been to the city of Madison lately, you might be surprised at how many new businesses are under construction. From big-box retailers to home-grown restaurants, developers and the people who live and shop there can't seem to get enough.
It has not always been that way.
Back in 1988, the mayor had to explain to inquiring reporters how Jitney-Jungle could justify building a full-service supermarket in her small town.
"We say that the rooftops have been counted, and the market is here," the mayor said back then. "We need some commercial growth and some services for the people, and this marks the beginning."
Thirty years later, Mary Hawkins Butler is still the mayor, and her city is still growing. After several waves of commercial development, the current wave includes a new Primos Cafe, Starbucks, C Spire, Zaxby's, Ichiban, Courtyard by Marriott, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Hobby Lobby, and others the mayor isn't ready to name. They're all newly-opened, under construction, or in the pipeline. The halls of City Hall are cluttered with drawings and designs either approved or awaiting approval to build in a city that, for now, is still demanding more.
We sat down with the mayor, who grew up in Jackson but has been in Madison since she opened her own antique shop on Main Street when she was still a teenager. She has been mayor since 1981 and has directed the city's growth from a small strawberry-farming town to a busy suburban city filled with families.
"If we wanted this city to grow the way that it should grow, we had to build a community that people felt safe in, where they wanted to live, wanted to go to school, and where they wanted to shop," she says of those early, formative days, when she and the Board of Aldermen were charting the city's future. She says their first priority was public safety and that more than a third of the current budget goes to the Madison Police Department.
As in 1988, the rooftops are still driving the city's growth. About 25,000 people now live here.
The new Starbucks, C Spire and Courtyard sit roughly where the "Christmas on Ice" seasonal ice-skating rink used to be set up, at the southwest corner of Highway 463 and Highland Colony Parkway. The mayor says they will soon be joined by a stand-alone Georgia Blue restaurant. It's also where the newest Primos Cafe has just opened. The first Primos eatery, a bakery, opened in downtown Jackson almost 90 years ago. Owner Don Primos says he's had his eye on Madison for at least the past ten years.
"We looked at the numbers and what it would cost to try to be here, and pulled the trigger,' Primos says. "It's been a long time coming, but we're very glad to be here."
Over on the east side of I-55, the biggest of the new businesses, Academy, sits on a new north-south connector road between Highway 463 and Madison Avenue. Site work is underway next door for the new Hobby Lobby. Other stores and out-parcels will likely follow, in an area that was nothing but trees less than a year ago.
"I've never seen anybody build a road that fast," Butler says.
All these new businesses don't attract just Madison residents. They draw from the whole metro area and beyond, luring shoppers who might otherwise be shopping in Jackson or some of its other suburban cities.
"We're all in competition, and I think competition's good," the mayor says. "Whether it's Flowood, Brandon, Jackson, Clinton, Madison, Ridgeland -- we try to put our best foot forward to show that we have a community where you need to be. And if everybody feels that way, then more businesses will come."
With those businesses, of course, come more tax dollars. Madison, today, appears to be flush with both.
The mayor says a new high-end assisted-living facility is also coming soon. She is still working on plans to create a multi-use "town center" on the old Madison-Ridgeland High School property along Highway-51, between Main Street and Madison Avenue.
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