By: Haskel Burns

Over the last several years, Hub City officials – particularly those from the Downtown Hattiesburg Association – have worked to create a resurgence in the downtown area to bring more amenities and offerings, as well as fill some of the buildings that have sat vacant for quite some time.

Those efforts have paid off over the past two years, during which time downtown Hattiesburg has seen the sale of 25 buildings, along with the addition of 75 residential units at the Preservation Crossing apartments at the site of the former Hattiesburg High School on Main Street. All told, those moves count for approximately $25.4 million in downtown Hattiesburg alone.

“From (our) perspective, we are so excited that we’re starting to see the fruits of our labors take root,” said Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Downtown Hattiesburg Association. “It’s just fantastic.

“There are currently 15 development projects in the works in downtown.”

That includes the former Calico Mall building on East Pine Street, which is being transformed into a mixed-use space for food, amusement and other amenities. Hattiesburg City Council members recently approved a zoning change for the site to developers Kenneth Moye and Korey Williams, which allows for features such as a food court, bar, outdoor/indoor amusements and office space at the spot.

Outdoor improvements to the site – which was vacated at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – include rooftop amenities and an outdoor pool, which would be public access for customers only. The former Humidor at Hattiesburg building on Walnut Street also is being renovated for use as a venue space, and the Fair Building on Main Street. is expected to begin renovations within the next year.

“And then almost directly across the street from it, 511 and 513 Main Street (are being redone),” Saffle said. “I can’t really say what’s going on with them, because we’re not quite ready to move.

“But we finally are moving properties into the hands of people who are actively interested in converting these spaces into usable space, whether they’re opening a business in it or looking to renovate it and lease it. This is all so exciting, because this is the most activity we’ve seen in downtown, in I’ll say 25 years or more.”

In addition, investor Chad Edmondson is developing a snow cone stand/restaurant by the Longleaf Trace on Main Street. He also has purchased the property at the intersection of Main and Fourth streets, with the expectation of converting it into retails spaces for artists’ studios with affordable rent.

Saffle attributes the growth to the efforts officials have put forward not only through the downtown association, but everyone involved – and invested – in the area.

“From the mayor’s office to the (Area Development Partnership), everybody is pulling in the same direction and wanting to see downtown revitalized and thriving,” she said. “So we’re all working together collaboratively with that same goal in mind, and it’s finally starting to come to fruition. And then we have had three or four business expansions, with (Southern Prohibition) expanding their kitchen and now having a full restaurant and bar.

“That’s just been huge in attracting people downtown, and we’ll start to see some additional movement down there with The Switchyard getting up to speed as a music venue and just a cool space. Then there’s some light agricultural industry coming, kind of behind Economy Supply. These are all areas that 10 years ago, there was nothing here, and now we’ve got businesses that are just looking for places to come, and so it’s really exciting to see people buying up these properties and starting to flip them.”

To add to the new developments, there also is a major sidewalk project in progress, which recently got started along both sides of Main Street near Main Street Books. Businesses along that stretch – such as Gratefull Soul, Main Street Books and Ruby Nails are remaining open during the process.

“We submitted kind of our wish list to the city, as far as infrastructure improvements go, as they’re looking at their (American Rescue Plan Act) funds,” Saffle said. “So we have been asking for a while for the sidewalks down on Main Street – they’ve been on our ask list for several years.

“Our next asks are going to be for sidewalk improvements along Mobile Street on Buschman, all the way down to SoPro and over to the Komp (building). Again, these are high-traffic areas anyway, with The Lucky Rabbit, and then having all these other businesses coming online in those areas … we need to have good, safe connections and walkways between all of our areas.”