Bridget Moorehead admits she lacked her husband’s imagination when he came home in 2014 and told her he had purchased a block that had seen better days in the Olde Towne section in Ridgeland.
“I didn’t see the vision,” she said. “I’m not a risk taker.”
To Bobby Moorehead, the package deal purchase of five buildings on the block extending from the corner of West Jackson Street and North Wheatley Street to the corner of West Jackson Street and North Central Avenue represented opportunity in an area with potential for growth.
Seven years later, both husband and wife Bobby and Bridget Moorehead refer to that block as “the hippest half acre in Ridgeland.”
Located on that half acre are M7 Coffee House at 111 N. Wheatley St., Whirl Natural Smoothie Bar at 115 N. Wheatley St., Indulge Salon at 180 W. Jackson St. and the Meeks Agency Inc. at 170 W. Jackson St.
Soon to be the new kids on the block will be the Lily Pad Café, a restaurant that will provide training and employment for individuals with disabilities, and photographer Ron Blaylock, whose transformation of a small cottage into a studio is almost complete.
For the Mooreheads, the purchase of the block paid off with an unexpected benefit as they poured hours and hours of sweat equity into one building for use as a coffee shop: It brought their family closer together.
“We used it as a time to restructure our home life and our values,” said Bridget Moorehead, explaining that for a year she homeschooled their five children while they pitched in to renovate the building where they opened M7 Coffee House.
“We did school stuff at the Red House, the building next to M7. That was our schoolhouse. I could meet with contractors and the kids when they got finished could come over and help with painting.
“It wasn’t anything we planned, but they were the perfect age and wanted to help. They were excited. It was neat for them to see the process of what happens with hard work.”
The sale of two properties – one to Brandon Meeks for his insurance agency and another to the Lily Pad Foundation – put the purchase of the block in the clear, said Bobby Moorehead, a real estate attorney whose office is located at the corner of Maple and Jackson streets in the Olde Town section of Ridgeland.
“We’ve been blessed with a project that we’re way ahead on any equities,” he said. “We didn’t get real greedy with it. We didn’t get real rich, but we didn’t get hurt.”
Last November, Bobby Moorehead purchased additional property in Olde Towne near the block he bought in 2014. He has also purchased the former Parker House restaurant property in Olde Towne.
He has “big plans” for the Parker House but won’t divulge them yet. “It’s going to be cool,” he said.
He is considering what to do with a vacant space next to Blaylock’s photography studio so the pecan trees will be preserved and the property used in a way to attract visitors.
“Maybe a mobile food truck or pop-up vending area,” he said. “It’s a nice green space.”
Blaylock expects to move into his studio, a 700-square-foot, 100-year-old cottage that he rebuilt with help from his sons and friends, in April.
Many years ago, he had a studio next to his new one and helped organize festivals to bring people to Olde Towne.
Blaylock said he’s happy to return his studio to the area because of the sense of community the Mooreheads have nurtured and the organic way the area has changed but retained its authenticity.
“Bobby Moorehead has a million irons in the fire,” he said. “I knew he would do something cool, something interesting, something that would make it a good neighborhood.”
Blaylock plans to build a patio and deck on the back of his studio that will connect with M7 and provide for a large outdoor area where people can gather. There’s already a ramp on the front porch that leads to M7, a feature that his son, Finn, used when he was in a wheelchair while battling cancer. He died at age 7 on Aug. 22, 2019.
Bridget Moorehead sometimes taught Finn at M7 when he was unable to attend school at St. Richard Catholic School. “We created the most caring environment for him,” she said, noting that frogs found at M7 are reminders of Finn, who was a nature lover and explorer.
Construction on the Lily Pad Café should start later this spring and be done by late summer, said Brent Lape, a founder of the Lily Pad Foundation, which last year bought the building that originally housed M7 and M7 moved next door to the Red House.
The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation will interview, hire and train employees for the cafe, he said. The restaurant is expected to open in the fall.
Olde Towne felt like the right location for the restaurant, Lape said, after foundation members searched throughout the metro area. “It has a small town feel that you can’t build with new construction,” he said.
The block that the Mooreheads have revitalized could see new construction possibly later this year.
Brandon Meeks has plans to tear down the building that houses his agency and building that houses Indulge Salon and replace them with a new, two-story building similar to those already on Jackson Street, which is part of what’s known as the Railroad District of Ridgeland. The new building would house the Meeks Agency, the Cockroft Agency, Indulge Salon and possibly high-end lofts on the second floor, he said.
He put his plans on hold, he said, because the costs of materials increased substantially. “I’m waiting on material prices to drop a bit,” he said.
Meeks has purchased the cottage at 215 W. Jackson St. that once held B. Liles Studio for use as his office when construction begins.
The area’s small-town charm is expected to grow after the city of Ridgeland sells the building it once used for as city hall.
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee said the city plans to use some of the funds from the sale to hire a consultant to help with plans to slow traffic through Olde Towne, make it more pedestrian friendly and give it even more of the feel of a downtown, something the city has never had.
The mayor would like to enhance the area’s charm by stringing lights outside, adding more landscaping and perhaps placing speakers in the sidewalks that would allow for seasonal music to be played during holidays.
McGee applauds the Mooreheads and their efforts. “It’s exciting to have a businessperson who has bought into what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Bobby Moorehead admits he’s known for looking on the bright side of things, but he’s kept one thought in mind when it comes to his vision for Olde Towne: “I’m an optimist, but I knew if we shared well, it would turn out good.”