Real estate expected to climb with project|[9/24/06]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 24, 2006

Nearly three months after the city announced its intentions to renovate and beautify the Oak Street area between Washington Street and the Mississippi River, real estate agents are predicting the price of the property along the corridor will rise. But it hasn’t yet.

&#8220I think it’s just a matter of time before it takes off,” said Traci Ellis of Jones & Upchurch, who represents a fire-damaged house at 3409 Oak St. &#8220The potential is there for it to be something that’s very nice and very exciting.”

The &#8220potential” comes mainly from the distinctive bluffs overlooking the river and the Yazoo Diversion Canal, offering unobstructed views of the sunset over the water below that Realtor Harley Caldwell believes makes the properties there among the best buys in the South.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

&#8220There has always been a need for quality housing in that area because of the view of the river,” said Caldwell, who represents a house in the urban renewal zone at 2012 Pearl St. &#8220It can’t be replaced someplace else.”

The dense, shade tree-heavy district – extending, roughly, from Washington Street west to the river between Veto Street to the north and North Frontage Road to the south -is an assortment of historic estates renovated into bed and breakfasts alongside about 400 aging shotgun houses, well-maintained newer homes and dilapidated, often-abandoned shacks, where prices have remained depressed by perceptions of crime and blight. From the street, the spectacular views from a potential backyard are obscured in many lots by dilapidation and neglect.

”People are just afraid” to move into some parts of Oak Street because of activity at night, said Mary Reed, who is selling a house at 2501 Oak for Perry Real Estate, part of the reason Caldwell estimated prices in the area sell for around $20 to $45 per square foot. For comparison, she said, older houses in other neighborhoods like Openwood Subdivision sell in the $65 to $70 per square foot range, and newer houses in those places – virtually nonexistent in the proposed urban renewal zone – go for more than $80 per square foot. Elsewhere, she said, new construction is reaching record highs of up to $120 per square foot.

&#8220It’s going to depend upon the perception of buyers as to the security of the area. My perception was that there was a lot of drugs being sold in the area and it was dangerous,” Caldwell said. &#8220Definitely the perception of the area has to change first. After that changes, you’ll have to see some renovation projects to get prices up to $70, $80, $90.”

That’s exactly the result the city hopes to see from its plan, though Mayor Laurence Leyens said he’s counting on business to take control once the city has completed its infrastructure and aesthetic plans.

&#8220People who own property there now, their property should be worth more money,” said Leyens, who heard interest in the area before and since the potential project was made public from commercial and residential developers, but would not be specific about who or what could be en route there. &#8220The city’s not particularly interested in buying any property. We’re looking at acquiring a couple of pieces, mainly on Washington Street for landscape purposes, just getting rid of eyesores. But we’re really looking at the private sector to come in.”

Before it can take any official steps, the city will have to hold a public hearing based on plans drawn by urban planning consultant Jimmy Gouras, which have been submitted and could take place as soon as next week. From there, actual work will entail putting in sidewalks, lights and gutters on Oak Street and turning Washington Street into a two-lane &#8220tourist corridor,” Leyens said, which will slow down traffic and add alternating sidewalks and parking with some landscaping, essentially extending the roadway portion of the overhaul completed earlier this year on downtown Washington Street.

&#8220When they get done, I’m very confident a lot of the money will be going there from the private sector, just like downtown,” Leyens said, referring to the $8 million spent as part of an overall $17.5 million bond issue begun in 2001 to renew the downtown business district.

State law allows cities to designate an area under an urban renewal plan and to acquire property to sell to developers with defined conditions on how the property will be used. The legislation also allows the city to remove areas defined as slum and blight.

As part of the first renewal plan downtown, the city paid $2 million to acquire 12 properties and lost an eminent domain case in court when a jury set a price the city was unwilling to pay for a car lot at Washington and First East streets. About $10 million is still owed against that project’s debt, more than $2.3 million of which is set to be paid as part of the city’s 2007 budget.

The next upgrade is expected to cost $2 million-$3 million and is included as part of an overall $12 million to $15 million bond issue proposed to include $2 million for the first phase of a $20 million softball and recreation complex, a $5 million replacement of the Washington Bridge in front of DiamondJacks Casino (eventually to be reimbursed by a state grant), as much as $5 million for a major citywide paving project and various other smaller projects, not all of which have been determined.

&#8220Once the project picks up, I really think that it will improve a whole lot because it’s a nice area,” Reed said. Still, on rising prices and property values, she added, &#8220Not yet.”