Tim Cantwell imagined people standing on the top of his building, pointing through the night sky, observing the lights and the darkness surrounding the Mississippi River.
They would be cradling their cocktails. Laughing. Showing each other points of interest, parts of history. He imagined them looking down on all of Vicksburg, at the hopeful changes he had a hand in creating.
“There is no place to have that kind of observation, anywhere,” Cantwell says, of the rooftop view from his luxury apartment building at the corner of Washington and Clay streets. At press time, the building was scheduled to be opened during summer under the name The Lofts at First National.
On top of the building, a restaurant named 10 South Rooftop Bar and Grill, operated by local restaurateur Jay Parmegiani, will serve Southern-inspired cuisine and will give diners panoramic open-air dining amid views of the Mississippi River, Louisiana Delta Point, Yazoo Canal and Centennial Lake.
Cantwell hopes the renovation of this historic structure, originally built as the First National Bank of Vicksburg, will help bring more action downtown.
“It’s a substantial rehab of a 1905 historic building that was, when it was built, the tallest building in the state of Mississippi,” he said.
The developer not only understands the impact his properties can have on the people who live in them, but how this type of rehab can benefit an entire community … an entire economy.
“There is no way that it won’t have a big impact on bringing people downtown and encouraging them to linger,” Cantwell said. “What I know is that downtown will have a lot more activity.”
The real estate developer has seen how his own projects have brought activity to areas that needed new life. He said he was instrumental during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s in residential projects that brought people back into downtowns in his home state of California. He’s created housing for veterans in six states. He’s created residential living in places like Las Vegas, where he’s renovating 115 units, and Houston, where he’s got 100. In addition to the new lofts, Cantwell’s company owns several other properties in Vicksburg as well, including the renovated Bienville Apartments and the 132-unit Park Residences.
This type of rehab is just a start; the rest follows, by Cantwell or other developers like him, as the services that will meet the needs of an increasing downtown population come into play.
Another believer in Vicksburg is Daryl Hollingsworth. Unlike Cantwell, Hollingsworth is a Mississippian investing in his own home state. He grew up in the Delta, but moved to Vicksburg in 1984.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s too beautiful to let it deteriorate.” The company Hollingsworth co-owns, Live! Work! Play! Downtown Vicksburg, has recently completed 17 apartments, consisting of ten residential units and seven extended-stay rentals in the 1400 block of Washington St.
Included in the complex of three renovated late-1800s brick buildings is a new wine bar, The Wine House. With the bar opened and the last of the apartment units getting their finishing touches with a courtyard, fireplaces, stainless steel appliances, hardwood and cork floors, exposed brick walls and in-unit washers and dryers, Hollingsworth said he’s moving on to his next rehab project, which will hopefully begin the domino effect of new service providers coming into downtown.
“We bought the old Corner Medical property,” he said, of another structure on Washington Street. “We want to put seven apartments there and a grocery store.” He said the grocery will be small, but will begin to meet some needs of a walkable community.
“My goal is to get 2,000 people living downtown,” said Hollingsworth. “Once we reach that number, we think it will become its own community.”
Hollingsworth said a group is renovating a building to house a theater, and others are attempting to secure grants to build a farmer’s market pavilion. He said he sees a recent uptick in interest downtown. He hopes The Wine House, which offers “lite bites,” a full bar and a wine list of “twenty whites and twenty reds, all hand-picked” will add to what may be a small, but emerging renaissance for the city.
Vicksburg Main Street Executive Director Kim Hopkins understands what the presence of developers like Cantwell and Hollingsworth can mean.
“Vicksburg is more than a small town, we are an incubator for business and an example of why you should invest downtown,” explained Hopkins. “If you look at the increase of residents in our downtown area, the need for amenities increase and investors see an opportunity to make a wise move into our downtown spaces by developing them into wine bars, bakeries, restaurants and so much more.”
Cantwell has his own vision for Vicksburg’s downtown.
“We need a top-of-the-line boutique hotel,” he said, hinting this is something he may consider taking on as a rehab project. “We have several properties we would consider under the right circumstances … and there’s a set of other adaptive re-uses for some of the other buildings.
“I hope we can make the river more accessible. You have to have a big ole four-wheel drive truck and a big ole trailer,” he said, if you want to access boating ramps. “That [improving access] would be a huge change for someone with a yacht going up and down the river. They can’t dock here.”
As for doing their part, the powers-that-be claim to be paving the way for projects like those of Cantwell and Hollingsworth.
“Main Street — along with the Architectural Review Board, the Foundation for Historic Preservation and the mayor and alderman – has helped preserve the city’s rich history while effortlessly bringing in progress to ensure the downtown area’s future,” Hopkins said.
“People love the idea of visiting and living in our downtown, but our downtown is a bit different,” said Hopkins. “It is steeped in history, it has stood the test of time, but is a developed business district and has an established arts and culture base. There is always something to do downtown and as our buildings are being developed and growing, investors are excited to buy in to what our community has to offer.”
It seems Cantwell may have emotionally “bought in” decades ago, when the Californian would come here as a youth.
“I’m only in Mississippi at all because of my formative years,” he said. “I spent summers in Jackson with my grandparents, 12 years of summers.”
He said his first visit to Vicksburg came on a fishing trip with his grandfather. Later, as an adult, he had business to do in the old First National Bank of Vicksburg building, so he’s known of it for decades.
“This has been a ‘personal’ investment since ‘78,” Cantwell said. He simply had to wait for the right opportunity … which seems to be now.
If Cantwell and Hollingsworth have anything to do with it, the future is looking brighter for this river city. Hollingsworth lamented that just two years ago, so many of the old buildings were deteriorating. Now, a few developers may just be the forward-pointing iceberg tip.
“I’ve seen what can happen when you begin to bring people back living downtown,” said Cantwell.
If this happens, then the wishes of fellow developer, Hollingsworth, may very well take shape, transforming this old beauty of a town into a walkable, vibrant, self-sufficient neighborhood.
“We’re trying to build a community,” he said. “We’re trying to build a village.”
Want to know more?
The Wine House: Serving fine wines, spirits and “lite bites,” in an upscale New York atmosphere, 1408 Washington St., Vicksburg. For more information phone (601) 415-5549, email VicksburgWineHouse@gmail.com or like their page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/VicksburgWineHouse.