Renovations bring historic Heritage Building full circle

Major renovations are underway on the Heritage Building in downtown Jackson. Plans are to...
Major renovations are underway on the Heritage Building in downtown Jackson. Plans are to restore the facility and bring retailers and restaurants to the bottom floor.(WLBT)
Updated: Jan. 29, 2021 at 4:06 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Everything eventually comes full circle. For the Heritage Building in downtown Jackson, that 360-degree turn has taken a little more than a century.

Developers are completely remodeling the historic facility, in part, to help bring new retail development to the Capitol Street corridor.

They’re able to do it, in part, thanks to a long-term lease signed recently by the Wise Carter law firm.

“Wise Carter recommitted to Heritage Properties, which has enabled us to do this. We’re able to completely renovate a very outdated building,” said co-developer Jeff Speed.

The multimillion-dollar project is being undertaken by a group of developers known as LeFleur’s Bluff Properties. The primary developer is Kip Gibert.

The work promises to breathe new life not only into the Heritage Building but also into Capitol Street, by providing additional street-level dining and recreational opportunities.

In the coming weeks, a new juice bar is expected to open on the first floor of the 401 E. Capitol building.

Meanwhile, developers are still looking to bring in a new restaurant, as well as a coffee shop. Space on the first floor is also being reserved for a financial institution.

“There are a lot of banks in the metro area, but not a lot are represented downtown,” Speed said.

The six-story structure, along with its adjoining buildings, was built in the early 1900s, with the main facility being completed in 1906.

It was home to a Kennington’s department store and later the original McRae’s, which took all six floors.

Relics of the building’s history remain, some of which are being rediscovered and revitalized by contractors.

“There have been many twists and turns in renovating a 115-year-old building,” Speed said. “We’ve discovered an amazing amount of artifacts.”

The building’s elevators, for instance, were the oldest in the state and still running on direct current.

“We retained the original cabs, but we had to modernize everything else,” he said. “We kept the old electric board to get it framed.”

In one room, contractors uncovered a long-defunct fire suppression system manufactured by the “Automatic” Sprinkler Corporation of America.

The Youngstown, Ohio-based firm ceased operations in 1967, according to The Rust Jungle, a historic preservation blog.

The rusted metal structure, complete with large bolts, thick pipes, and numerous shut-off valves, will be cleaned up and left in place as a monument to the building’s past.

“We found it inside a wall,” Speed said. “We think it’s interesting.”

Other discoveries also have been made.

In the same room, opposite the fire suppression system, a stripped-down wall revealed a long-forgotten staircase leading out to Capitol Street’s sidewalks.

And in another area, contractors found an old cistern, filled with old bottles and other items.

“I have a sneaky suspicion there was a pharmacy in this building,” Speed said. “We kept all the artifacts; we’re having them cleaned up and are going to put them on display.”

The Heritage Building includes what appear to be four separate structures – a six-story brick building at the corner of Capitol and Congress Street, with a four-story structure next to that. Next to the four-story facility are two additional two-story sections.

One two-story section has been completely gutted to make way for a new courtyard. It will be fronted by a coffee shop along Capitol.

The remaining two-story section will have apartments up top and a restaurant on the first floor.

“I’m betting on a restaurant coming here,” Speed said. “I’ve already installed a grease pit.”

Entering the main building, visitors are greeted by a fresh interior and hand-poured terrazzo flooring, much like the building did in its heyday.

“I’ve never seen it done before,” Speed said, referring to the pouring of the floor. “It was an unbelievable process and a local contractor did it.”

Upstairs, the space occupied by the Wise Carter Child & Carraway law firm has also undergone major renovations.

The project has been made possible, in part, thanks to the state’s Historic Tax Credit Program.

The state offers the program as an incentive for developers to restore historic structures for economic development purposes, according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Under the program, developers can receive a credit for up to 25 percent of qualified rehabilitation costs, which they can then use to subtract from their annual income taxes.

Developers can only use the tax on properties that will be as businesses or for other income-producing purposes, MDAH’s website states. Additionally, the improvements must be signed off on by the MDAH and the National Park Service.

Speed commended MDAH and the National Park Service for their help on the project, as well as the state legislature for reauthorizing the tax credits. He also praised the city of Jackson for helping with other issues, such as obtaining construction permits and cutting through red tape.

“People always have a bad opinion of certain government services, but they were wonderful to work with,” Speed said. “It’s been unbelievable.”

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