When you drive through north Fondren, one building may stand out as a spot where something – anything – needs to go. That’s been the observation of many over the years about the McRae’s building in the 300 block of Meadowbrook Road. When the store was closed in 2005, it had been in operation since 1955, the company’s first suburban location. Now a group of advocates and community leaders say the once thriving department store may be the key to the resurgence of that area.
At a “green light thinking” session last week, community activist Chuck Wise posited the development of the property could motivate others to begin to bring back to life many empty buildings in the Top of Fondren. She thanked developers the Jamileh brothers who have already poured countless dollars and hours into the former Primos Northgate property (where you will find Room by Room Furniture and Fondren Hall, among others). But she says more needs to be done. That’s when the 67, 915 square feet McRae’s space came up. “We’re on to something,” she gleefully said. “We need someone local who is engaged and passionate about the area to see the potential and buy the building.” She added “I could get fired up about this.”
Fondren Renaissance Foundation (FRF) Executive Director Jim Wilkirson was at the table during the discussion and agreed: something needs to happen. He says the tenant would have to be something that hits every walk of life to appeal to a mass crowd. And that’s when the idea came up for a market. And FRF associate director Mary Jo McAnally concurred. “Maybe we can brand it as a warehouse district like the one in Dallas,” she said. So is there a way to kick start that scenario, Wilkirson pondered? “Maybe outside stalls or booths,” he asked? “You have vendors that would come here if they didn’t have to commit to every week.” He says the FRF office is flooded with calls weekly about opportunities to set up temporary shop. “This could be interesting.”
Redd Realty of Atlanta has owned the property since 2007, purchased from Meadowmart Associates. Currently, a small clothing shop and a cash advance business occupy the west end of the total 86,000 square feet. A spokesperson for Redd told us they have had some interest in the building over the years but nothing has developed so far.
When Wilkirson began dreaming of potential occupants for a market concept, he cited the fact that so many artists work from their tables at home. “They have names, but don’t have resources for a storefront,” he said, referring to locals like painter and sculptor Roz Roy. Wise asserted she could begin recruiting tomorrow. Not so fast, said Wilkirson, who appreciated the enthusiasm. “I want people to understand we don’t have a buyer nor tenants nor anything set. Right now, we’re dreaming of what could be one day in the future.” But the concept is right, he believes. “It’s getting people into the Fondren arts district; that’s the hook.”