Over the past several years, the City of Petal has seen many businesses – especially several in the downtown area – be vacated because of relocation to the Evelyn Gandy Parkway or other reasons.
Although a few of those buildings remain empty, Friendly City officials are very confident for growth in the area, with some new arrivals to the city and discussions being held on how best to transform vacant properties into thriving businesses once again.
“Of course, the vacant buildings that jump to mind are Rite Aid, and then we’d like to see something go up on the land between Subway and BancorpSouth on Central Avenue,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “That’s ripe for something, and of course we’re really excited about the new Tractor Supply Company coming in (to Midas Park) – that’s big.
“I’ve had some inquiries about land on Highway 42 closer to the (high) school, but they didn’t give any indication exactly what it was – maybe a vet’s office of some sort, and they were talking about building something there. That’s still kind of confidential, and they’re not giving much away on that.”
Back in early March, Keith Payne, who owns the tract of land near Subway, came before the Petal Board of Aldermen to discuss the possibility of building a zero lot line subdivision at that site. A zero lot line subdivision contains structures that come up to – or very near – the property line, such as rowhouses, garden homes, patio homes and townhomes.
Under Payne’s proposal, the homes would offer a minimum of 1,400 square feet each with a garden home design.
One particular idea is to transform the land into something similar to The District at Midtown in Hattiesburg, the mixed-use development across from the University of Southern Mississippi that offers retail, restaurants and living units.
In addition, the Petal School District has taken ownership of the former McDonald’s building at the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue. Some possible uses for that location include meeting space during the day and student activities during the afternoons and summer breaks.
If all goes according to plan, exterior upgrades to the building will start in January, followed by interior work in the spring. Officials then hope to have the building ready for the summer to host that season’s activities.
“It is going to be occupied sooner rather than later,” Wilson said. “I’m super excited about that, and I do believe that our downtown is prime for new growth.
“We’re excited that Steven Kelly Alfa Insurance has moved in next to Grand Central Outfitters, and then right across the street, FirstLight Home Care moved in and took over that house. They’re just sprucing that whole area up, and it’s looking much nicer now than it did before, so that little area of South Main Street is coming along.”
Trustmark Bank on South Main Street has recently remodeled, and Regions Bank also has completed some upgrades.
“That whole area has come back, and is looking really nice,” Wilson said.
One of the biggest newcomers to Petal is Verona Italian Grill, which recently opened at 223 West Central Ave. and has proven to be popular with residents from around the region.
“I am very excited about that,” Wilson said. “First of all, it’s great food, and they’re just wonderful people that own it.
“They’re fun and nice, and we’re just glad to have them in downtown Petal. They’re drawing people from Hattiesburg to come to Petal and eat, and that’s really exciting for downtown Petal, and it’s a draw for people to come downtown.”
Although Wilson is unable to share yet exactly what new developments are coming to the city, developers are looking and expressing interest in several properties in Petal.
“That’s particularly in some of our downtown areas, so we’re really excited about the growth,” Wilson said. “There’s nothing to indicate that it won’t continue as it currently is, which is wonderful. There are some isolated buildings still available that somebody could really turn into a unique shopping excursion, or maybe a small deli.”
The former Petal Library on Central Avenue, which is owned by a church ministry, still sits vacant. Officials have several concerns about the building, in particular the presence of asbestos on the outside.
So far, the cost to mitigate that matter has been a deterrent to prospective buyers.
“It’s going to be a hard thing to put somebody in there, especially for some kind of event facility, because it doesn’t have a whole lot of parking space,” Wilson said. “Quite honestly, I’m not sure about the future of that place.
“We had people interested in it, and there are people that would like to do something. Even the (Petal) Arts Council has shown interest in maybe turning it into an artistic venue where maybe people could have classes there and small exhibits. But once again, we just have to get through the fact that it’s old.”
Wilson said she is absolutely confident that the city’s growth is consistent and strong.
In fact, over the past couple of months, she’s received many requests from people looking for information about moving to Petal, many of whom are from California.
“Perhaps COVID-19 has made people realize that maybe living in a smaller, more rural area will give you more freedoms and more opportunity,” Wilson said.