Old Duling School - Business Matters

Duling School evening Business Matters

JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - You won't find any students there, but you could call it a school of business. The old Duling School is in the midst of a resurgence as a top attraction in Fondren right now.

As much promise as the classic property has, due to economic ups-and-downs it has not always been easy for developer Mike Peters to maintain tenants. But now, Peters says he is seeing the former school reach its full potential.

"It's exactly what we always envisioned that this would be in this dynamic neighborhood of Fondren," Peters said. "The restaurants, the bars, now the live entertainment. It's just great! It's what we envisioned six or seven years ago, just took to us a little while to get there."

Peters' vision to transform it began in 2006, and with that transformation Duling School is no longer a building for education.  Now, it is a destination for entertainment.

Duling Hall, a venue promoted by Ardenland has been in the middle of it all for the last three years.  Ardenland and Duling Hall owner Arden Barnett said the renovated school has proven to be a prime location for attracting performers.

"This year we will have somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 events in this building, between concerts and private events," Barnett said.

And, where there is fun there is bound to be food. Duling is bookended by restaurants.

First, the wildly successful Babalu, which opened in 2010. The soon-to-be oyster bar Saltine will open on the other end. Saltine's chef and owner Jesse Houston said they are excited to add to the local culture and be a part of the resurgence.

"Especially with Ardenland opening and doing concerts and shows, I think we really piggy-back along with them," Houston said. "Sort of create this great dining atmosphere and bring a lot of people to Fondren to have a lot of fun."

While Houston and his wife Rachel are first time restaurateurs, the team behind Babalu have been in the industry for 40 years. Babalu's co-owner and serial restaurateur Bill Latham said the "I Love Lucy" themed eatery is inspired by more than just Ricky Ricardo.

"We do everything from scratch, we just try to be a very culinary driven restaurant and a very fun place to come," Latham said.

Latham said that approach has lead to double-digit growth in sales every year since opening. Things are going so well here they opened a second Babalu in Memphis, Tennessee, in June, and a third Babalu is scheduled to open in Birmingham, Alabama, in the fall.

Peters said along with the boutiques and a salon, Duling School is now fully occupied.

Saltine will officially open August 19th, and they will be open with oysters and beer for Fondren After 5 on Thursday, August 7.

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