The Jackson Planning Commission approved the first steps needed for a new Starbucks location in Downtown Jackson, marking the chain’s return to the downtown area after leaving years ago.
The location is set to be built on 203 North Highland Avenue, the currently-vacant lot beside the Blacksmith Restaurant.
The coffee shop has set off an online firestorm due to its immediate position across the street from local favorite Turntable Coffee.
Turntable, which has been in business for 13 months, has carved out a niche for itself in the hustle and bustle of downtown Jackson and serves as the community’s main coffee venue.
Starbucks, which used to have a location on East Baltimore Street, owns eight other locations throughout Jackson.
The proposed location will be a 2,225-square foot facility with 31 parking spaces, a sidewalk and a wrap-around drive-through lane.
Turntable owner Anthony Kirk, along with numerous members of the community, have expressed their concerns regarding the impact such a business could have on the locale, while city officials have assured residents that little impact will be had.
The debate seems to boil down to one question: what do residents want Downtown Jackson to look like?
“We have to create a downtown that works for Jackson,” city says
An attitude of inevitability was present among city officials at last week’s planning commission meeting, acknowledging the tight position the city was put in between supporting local business and regulating growth.
Stan Pilant, planning director for the City of Jackson, was front and center at the meeting. He emphasized that the planning commission did not get a say in whether another Starbucks location was good for downtown or not—the nine-person board only decided if the business met all required criteria.
“It’s just like any other development that goes through a process,” Pilant later told reporters. “The property is already zoned—there’s no rezoning to do. We did look at traffic, and they provided the information and we reviewed that, and as long as they meet all of the criteria, we recommend approval.
“All the other things swirling around are outside planning and zoning.”
A number of concerns were proposed by residents and business owners at the meeting regarding the location, such as the traffic increases and the possible detrimental effects to the “walkability” of Downtown Jackson.
Pilant, along with Hal Crocker, president and CEO of Crocker Construction and HCB Development, assured listeners that these issues were addressed.
In regards to traffic, Pilant explained that the planning commission required a traffic study from Starbucks, due to the distinct possibility of major traffic influx along North Highland.
The study pulled traffic data from the North Highland Starbucks location and the Lanese Dockery Drive Starbucks location.
“We only looked at the a.m. peak, because that’s a main peak for a coffeeshop,” Pilant said. “In the morning you’re catching the workers going to work, but most people downtown in the afternoon are walking…so it should not have any detrimental effects on the existing street network. It should be able to absorb the additional traffic with no delays.”
Crocker spoke to the walkability factor, saying it was a vital part of the design process.
“We looked at a lot of those aspects….the walkability image is something important that we’ve tried to create in everything we’ve done in the downtown area,” Crocker said. “So obviously we share those concerns. How do you marry (a Starbucks drive-through) to a walkable community?”
Crocker “pushed them to do things to make them friendlier to the neighborhood,” such as a landscaped area between the drive-through and the pedestrian area.
“If we’re successful and we get more businesses to move downtown, we’ll have more activity, we’ll have more people coming and doing things and benefiting the businesses coming down here,” Crocker added. “Then we’re going to continue facing some of these challenges about parking and traffic and other things. This won’t be the last time we’ll have this discussion.”
Members of the commission agreed with Crocker’s sentiment, expressing the importance of “business diversity,” and explaining that it is equally as important to “attract more people” over preservation of local flavor.
“Will everyone always be on the same side of things? Very rarely,” Pilant said. “But we try to reach a balance for people….we have to create a downtown that works for Jackson. We’re going to see more and more people coming before (the planning commission) wanting to do things. Some of those will be good things, some will be things we don’t want to see.”
Local business owners question future
Kirk, along with a number of other local business owners, attended last week’s meeting to ask questions of commission members and show support for local businesses.
While the issue feels very us-versus-them, Kirk explains that it is anything but.
“I’m not saying corporate businesses are bad for Jackson,” Kirk said. “I’m just saying, is this what we want on that block in downtown next to our farmer’s market? I understand I’m more invested because it is direct competition to me, but I’m doing this for downtown. And for the ‘next Starbucks.’”
According to Kirk, his opposition to the location is little about the direct competition to his own business, but rather the changes it could bring to the “momentum” of Downtown Jackson.
“We’ve known Starbucks wanted to come downtown for a period of time,” Kirk said. “That was talked about when I still worked at Starbucks. What wasn’t known was where.”
As soon as Kirk learned where it was to be built, he was immediately concerned.
“The reasons for approval was one, it looks similar to Jackson Walk, two, it was pedestrian-friendly, and three, the traffic impact study said it wouldn’t hurt traffic,” Kirk said. “It definitely looks like Jackson Walk! Great patio space, things like that. But what I didn’t expect was the massive drive-through lane.”
The drive-through lane—and its expected traffic—was the main issue Kirk presented to the commission.
“I had six years of experience at Starbucks, with five of that as store manager,” Kirk said. “And so I wanted them to understand that I was coming from Starbucks experience there. We could be talking about any other high-volume business, but Starbucks is the one we were talking about in the meeting.
“So I asked how this was pedestrian-friendly? Specifically, the drive-through. Does this promote walkability or car dependability? Especially in our new arts district.”
Kirk pointed out that the traffic study, while analyzing some of Starbucks’ peak hours, did not account for Jackson’s peak traffic hours.
“They looked at this intersection, and the existing two Starbucks’ drive-throughs, in December, during the week,” he said. “I suggested it was insufficient, because the farmer’s market season is spring, summer and fall, on Saturday mornings. So I said the study doesn’t present that.”
Kirk also pointed out that, based on his experience at Starbucks, the study didn’t account for longer drive-through times in the afternoon.
“It doesn’t present any afternoon peaks or after-school impacts. It doesn’t show work rush hour. Yes, the morning has the highest numbers, but in the afternoon and evening, orders are usually more complicated and drive-through times are longer.”
Regardless of the nitty-gritty details of traffic impacts, Kirk worries about the door it will open to all local businesses.
“I was thinking about the ‘Love Your Neighborhood’ mural. Right after you drive past that, you’ll drive past a Starbucks,” he said. “Is this where we want to go? Is this risk of Starbucks worth it—what other chain are we going to have next that will compete with Peppermint Addie & Co, or Grubs, or Rock n’ Dough. It could be Mellow Mushroom, it could be Baskin Robbins.
“I want to stress that it’s more than just about Turntable—it’s about our farmer’s market and the downtown area and the trajectory of that in our local businesses. I hope that we’ll love our neighborhood really well, and thoughtfully and intentionally.”
Where do we go from here?
The initial design stage of the Starbucks location was approved at last week’s meeting, meaning the ball is now back in Starbucks’ court. They will be required to produce a full set of plans for the site and building construction, which will then be submitted back to the planning commission for review and permitting.
Once permitted, then construction can begin. A timeline is not available yet.
As for Turntable Coffee, Kirk says nothing will change.
“We are not changing any plans that we have currently,” he said. “Our plans are still to move to a larger space this year and still continue the style of drinks that we do. We’ll probably spend more on marketing than we planned to.
“We planned for competition.”
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