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A shopping center that was once a focal point for retail in south Jackson before falling into near-ruin has a new name and, perhaps, new chapters in its history to write. The former Jackson Square Shopping Center on Terry Road near McDowell Road officially will reopen next month as Jackson Square Promenade. A grand-reopening ceremony is scheduled for April 6, and more than a dozen tenants are slated to open stores there in April and May, says Kenneth Pope-Johnson, the development’s operations manager. “This shopping center was thriving, the place to be,” he says of Jackson Square, built in 1968.

While traditional retailers such as clothing stores and a sports grill will be a part of the development, it also will feature a daycare center, a nightclub, a comedy/music club, a teen center and a pair of churches to create what Pope-Johnson says is something more akin to a community gathering place than a traditional shopping center. He’d like to use some vacant space there as a community center-type venue that can host everything from weddings to performing-arts events. The shopping center once was one of the Jackson area’s prime retail hubs, coming along roughly a decade before places like Metro center mall. It featured a movie theater, a pharmacy, restaurants and other shops.

But as retail and population growth spread outside Jackson into Rankin and Madison counties, tenants left and the shopping center fell into severe disrepair. It became, Pope-Johnson says, “a shining example of blight,” with more homeless people and pigeons frequenting the storefronts than shoppers. When he bought the property in 2010, only a pair of bingo halls were operating there, he says. A roof was on the verge of collapse, and there were numerous eyesores on the remainder of the lot.

The center is now about 60 percent leased. Pope-Johnson said he saw too much potential for the shopping center, with Terry Road on one side of the property and I-55 on the other, along with south Jackson’s population density, to not want to bring it back to life.

A Food Depot opening nearby last fall in an old Brookshire’s grocery location convinced him there’s again a market for retail-type businesses along Terry Road and a customer base willing to support them.

Tonya Green will open Perfect Fit clothing store at Jackson Square Promenade next month. But the shopping center has more significance to her than that. She went shopping there with her family as a child. She got her driver’s license by taking lessons at a Department of Motor Vehicles office there.

Green says her store hopefully will “help this shopping center prosper,” adding most of her family lives in the area, deepening the roots she’s already established. Jennifer McGowan has operated Creative Fashions at Jackson Square for the past couple of months. She, too, feels the development can become a place south Jackson can look upon with pride.

“I thought it was a good investment (for me),” she said. “It’s good that they’re trying to rebuild south Jackson.”

It’s taken a lot of work to rehab the shopping center, and more repairs are needed, Pope-Johnson said. He wouldn’t say how much he’s invested in the property. One storefront still has broken-out windows. Some facades are getting fresh coats of paint.

The deteriorating roof has been replaced, Pope-Johnson says. Old sheetrock and tile inside the storefronts have been ripped out.

The improvements alone are a sign Jackson Square has a bright future, Green says. “I’m still amazed. When I first came here (years ago), I couldn’t tell there were any businesses here.”

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