Meridian Star

September 18, 2013

Eastland building may become apartments


Associated Press

JACKSON —

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The James O. Eastland Federal Building in downtown Jackson may be converted into apartments and commercial space.

The Clarion-Ledger reports (http://on.thec-l.com/1a3uvsu ) that developers said Tuesday the project would cost $20 million.

The 115,000-square-foot space has sat vacant since Aug. 1, 2011, following the opening of the new federal courthouse.

Built in 1934 by the Jackson-based architectural firm Hull and Malvaney, the courthouse replaced an earlier one built on the same property. The building also housed a post office until the post office relocated in 1988.

The building is also home to a three-panel mural unveiled in 1940, depicting a white family in front of a plantation-style home along with faceless black people picking cotton. The judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the mural covered years later.

Watkins Development of Jackson bought the building at auction in October of 2011.

Company officials said the renovation will feature about 50 apartments ranging from 700 to 1,100 square feet in designs from two-bedroom to studio. They'll be located on floors 2 through 5 of the development. A commons area will be fashioned in what is currently a fourth-floor courtroom.

The ground floor will feature a restaurant and bar.

Many of the building's historic touches, such as the Greek-style marble columns inside and outside the building and the post office boxes inside will be maintained, developers said.

The project as a whole should wrap up by the end of next year, but lead developer Jason Goree said the fifth-floor apartments should be ready for occupancy by next summer. Goree said construction crews already are going through the building removing any potentially harmful material, and roofing work should start next week.

Goree said 35 of the apartments will feature one bedroom, another 10 or so two bedrooms, and the rest will be studio apartments.

About $6 million of the development's cost is being covered through tax credits designed to assist in rehabilitating historic buildings while preserving those buildings' historic aspects. The state Department of Archives and History is working with developers in that capacity.

The building is a named for the late U.S. Sen. James O. Eastland. Eastland, a Democrat, was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1941. He was elected to the Senate in 1942 and served until his retirement in 1978. He was chairman of the judiciary committee from 1956-78. He died in 1986.