Once home to a post office, U.S. District Court and federal offices, the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts is the latest building in downtown Jackson to be converted into residential space.
The rehab of the Art Deco-style building, constructed with terrazzo floors, marble walls and wood paneling, into one-bedroom and studio units fits with the nationwide trend of millennials, individuals ages 25-40, embracing downtown living, said John Gomez, president of Downtown Jackson Partners.
“One-bedroom apartments and studios that have cool common spaces are what we see millennials across the country looking for,” he said.
Pre-leasing is under way for the 101 units at the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts, located at 245 E. Capitol St. Monthly rent ranges from $900 for a 243-square-foot studio to $3,500 for a 1,103-square-foot loft.
Amenities include hardwood floors in the living area, stainless steel appliances, a washer and dryer in the unit, controlled access security and a manager on site.
“A number of units have integrated existing components of either the courthouse or law library,” said Scott Sledge, vice president of Certified Hospitality Management, which manages both the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts and its sister property, the Walthall Lofts.
Gun safes left from the days when they served federal marshals can still be found in the building and so can vintage post office boxes.
Residents of the Courthouse at The Walthall Lots will have access to the swimming pool, business center and billiards room at the Walthall Lofts via a sky bridge to the pool deck, and residents of the Walthall Lofts will have use of the fitness center at the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts.
“We have high expectations that based on the historical nature of the building, the fantastic views of Capitol Street and the skyline of Jackson, the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts will be attractive to prospective tenants,” he said.
Sledge said the Walthall Lofts are 60 percent leased by tenants of all ages, and he expects the tenant mix at the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts to be just as varied.
A food hall with six to eight vendors is planned for the first floor of the Courthouse at The Walthall Lofts in the space once occupied by the post office, Sledge said. The hall will be open to the public as well as residents and has an early April targeted opening date, he said.
A bar, planned for the basement space that once housed postal sorting operations, has an early April target date for opening as well.
The food hall and bar are expected to lend a sense of community downtown as well as boost the downtown economy, Sledge said.
The Walthall Lofts, a redevelopment of the Edison Walthall Hotel, opened in July 2020 as a mix of 154 one-bedroom and studio units situated around an inner court swimming pool. “That’s something you don’t see everywhere,” Gomez said.
Monthly rent at the Walthall Lofts, which are located at 225 E. Capitol St., ranges from $850 for a 350-square-foot studio to $1,650 for a 770-square-foot, one-bedroom unit at the Walthall Lofts.
Another fairly recent addition to downtown residential life is the Lamar Life Lofts, 23 loft apartments as well as office and retail space, located in the Lamar Life Building at 317 E. Capitol St. The building, known for its clock tower that is a downtown icon, was renovated in 2019.
Downtown Jackson Partners keeps track of about 400 apartments, some of which are in the downtown business improvement district and a few that are outside of it but nearby, Gomez said.
Before the Walthall Lofts opened, there were about 300 apartments in the downtown area and they were about 95 percent filled, he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed leasing but it’s picking up, Gomez said. “We’re hoping when things go back to normal, we’ll be able to fill these developments again,” he said.
The development that’s happening now on Capitol Street is continuing the progress the Hilton Garden Inn and the 64 apartments at the King Edward Apartments kicked off in 2009, Gomez said. The progress continued with the Standard Life Flats and, in 2017, the Capitol Art Lofts, Gomez said.
At the other end of Capitol Street from the King Edward Apartments, Kip Gilbert of LeFleur’s Bluff Properties is re-developing numerous storefronts in the 400 block of East Capitol Street that will have retail on the first floor and apartments on the second or third floor, Gomez said.
“The apartments will be done in the next three months,” Gomez said. “Three are completed, and they’re working on four more. They’re having some issues with supplies of construction materials and some appliances during the pandemic.”
Gibert’s entrance into transforming Capitol Street began when he purchased the Heritage Building property and continued with the purchase of the former Russ Tann building at 415 E. Capitol St., said Jeff Speed of Speed Commercial Real Estate, who is managing the redevelopment projects.
“Working in conjunction with the state Department of Archives and History and the National Park Service, we have redeveloped and rehabbed all of those properties under the Historic Tax Credit Program provided by the state Legislature and the federal government,” Speed said.
“The rules associated with that are stringent. We restored a lot of the storefronts and interiors to what they looked like in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. If I showed you a picture of what that segment looked like three years ago and now, you would say it’s unbelievable.”
Speed said some of the buildings have not been occupied in 40 years and the plan is to wait for the right businesses to fill the rehabbed spaces.
“We’re not just going to put in just anybody,” he said. “We’re trying to provide an atmosphere.”
The Shopkeep Co., which sells American-made products, occupies a renovated space at 418 E. Capitol St.
Gibert got excited about the progress he saw, Speed said, and purchased all of the buildings located between the Emporium building and Taste of the Caribbean restaurant on Capitol Street plus another building on President Street.
Gibert also bought the LeFleur Cadillac building on State Street and intends to restore it to how it looked in the 1940s, Speed said.
Speed said he’s excited about the work being done to give new life to Capitol Street. New sidewalks, irrigation, landscaping and lighting are going to be installed on the upper end of Capitol Street, he said.
Speed praised Jordan Rae Hillman, who directs the city of Jackson Planning Department for her help. “She along with the whole administration has been easy to work with,” he said.
Downtown is just now acquiring the population density it needs to justify the amenities that people who live there expect, Speed said.
“You couldn’t have put these businesses in years ago because they wouldn’t have survived,” he said. “I love pulling into downtown and watching people walk their dogs. You would not have seen that 10 years ago.”
Gomez credits the Mississippi Historic Tax Credit Program, which the Legislature reauthorized during the 2020 session, with encouraging investment and ensuring some of the character of rehabbed buildings is restored.
The state of Mississippi offers a 25 percent credit for the rehabilitation of historic structures used for income-producing purpose, and the federal government offers a 20 percent credit for the rehabilitation of historic structures used for income-producing purposes. Properties qualifying for the 20 percent federal preservation tax credit may also qualify for the state tax credit.
“New market tax credits can be used if you have a commercial component,” Gomez said.
The conversion of the Mississippi Foundry and Ironworks Plant at 300 W. South St. into what’s known as the Foundry Lofts in the 1990s led the way for downtown conversions. “They were the real pioneers,” Gomez said.
In the mid the 2000s, the Electric 308 Building at 308 E. Pearl St. was renovated and the top two floors were divided into 15 apartments, a mix of one-bedroom and two-bedrooms units.
Located just across from the Governor’s Mansion are the Plaza Apartments at 120 N. Congress St. and several blocks away from them are the Tombigbee Lofts at 555 Tombigbee St.
“Sterling Towers on East Griffith Street is just outside of the downtown business district, located across the street from the Mississippi College School of Law and has about 100 plus apartment units,” Gomez said. “That’s been around for a while.”
While not in the center of downtown, the Downtown Partners website also lists these apartments: The Dickies Lofts at 736 S. President St.; The 721 Apartments at 721 N. State St.; and 729 High Street apartments at 279 High St.
Components such as additional retail in downtown are still being worked on, Gomez said. “We’re still trying to grow all of those,” he said.