Railroad Park takes up about 12 city blocks, and it cost about $20 million to build—and the resulting new development around the park represents hundreds of millions of new dollars in residential, dining, retail and other amenities.
The park is a unique asset that represents both a health and a community focus in Birmingham that boosted the standard of living and offered a source of pride for residents. As a result, it created investment in the city in a part of town that had been dormant.
We visited RevBirmingham's 55th Place Arts complex, which is a business-incubation and co-working space where Rev does its economic-development work, which touches many parts of the city. The group focuses on three areas: business growth (through the Co.Starters program for entrepreneurs and similar mentorship programs); catalytic development (the building we met in was in an economically challenged area, but was developing into a more active and entrepreneurial part of town); and revitalization, where Rev works to organize local merchants in urban commercial districts.
We also visited Make Birmingham, a maker space with tools for wood-working projects, ceramics, art, screen-printing, and a co-working space for office or creative work. They had also "incubated" retail space, including a boutique with craft and hand-made items, an ice-cream shop, and a bicycle co-op for repair and tuning.
Such trips are certainly inspirational. But they can be disheartening, too, especially when it seems like I'm feeling an energy in another city that I wonder if Jackson can fully harness.
We hurried back from Birmingham for TeamJXN's first THIRDspace at Deep South Pops in Belhaven. With craft beer, popsicles and conversations, I brightened up as this new after-work event felt similar to our Alabama visit.
Two days later was Stray at Home in Smith Park—makers and artists in tents; food trucks; a cornhole tournament; live music. The JXN Trailblazers' tent highlighted progress on Jackson's Museum Trail, a multi-use bike/walk trail that will connect downtown and the Mississippi Farmers' Market to the Children's Museum, Museum of Natural Science, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum.
I'm excited to be part of the local launch of Co.Starters in June via Coalesce, the downtown co-working space, which is also home to 1 Million Cups on Wednesday mornings. Co.Starters will meet in the Innovate Mississippi offices, which recently relocated downtown. We will host our first nine-week cohort of local entrepreneurs working on their "business canvas," learning about the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship and executing crucial market validation of their ideas, with the help of local speakers and mentors.
On Aug. 24, the Greater Jackson Arts Council is bringing KickStarter CEO Yancy Strickler to talk about art, creativity and public good. Prior to that TeamJXN will hold a placemaking "Shark Tank" and encourage crowdfunding around the winning placemaking pitch to foster more creativity and public art.
My point? The energy our group felt in Birmingham is happening here. It's fits and starts, and things don't always go in a straight line, but I'm personally seeing more momentum for a tech/entrepreneur/economic-development push than I've seen in a while here. Some of it even has a (walking, biking) healthy angle as well ... which is close to unprecedented here!
It needs great energy—so I invite you to get involved. You can join TeamJXN and attend our luncheons, THIRDspace and the "shark tank" this summer. Join at TeamJXN.com or find us on Facebook to help make it happen.