When Oak Ridge was built in the 1940s for the Manhattan Project World War II effort, about 70,000 people lived and worked in the community and needed neighborhood markets and stores to purchase their food and other items. As a result, the federal government also built Jackson Square to become the community's first commercial center.
However, decades passed, and the historic district merited an overhaul, so local government officials decided to revive the once-thriving area. The redevelopment of Jackson Square was completed in 2015.
“City and state funds have gone toward amenities like a refurbished main parking lot and a nice interactive water feature for the district,” says Parker Hardy, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “The Square underwent a facelift to breathe new life into Oak Ridge's original townsite.”
Banking on Progress
One company that appreciates the renaissance efforts is CapitalMark Bank & Trust, which in 2011-2012 renovated a downtown building which it opened in 2013.
“I appreciate how the Square is bringing more people back downtown, even if it's just the curiosity of seeing how the area is redeveloping,” says David Bradshaw, Oak Ridge city president for CapitalMark Bank & Trust. “It is becoming a great place to gather, especially since the old main parking lot has been renovated to basically serve as a downtown park for events, a farmers market and other attractions.”
Bradshaw is also pleased that several businesses moved into Jackson Square in 2015.
“There are now six or seven locally owned restaurants,” he says. “My bank clients love it when I can suggest so many restaurants where they can have lunch or dinner.”
The Show Must Go On
Another business enjoying the renewed vibrancy of the district is Oak Ridge Playhouse, which formed as an organization in 1943 – shortly after Oak Ridge itself was created. The theater troupe eventually moved into an old movie theater on Jackson Square in 1957 where it has been ever since.
“Jackson Square today is a centralized location growing with gift shops, restaurants and banks. It offers one-stop shopping where people can find a variety of things in one place,” says Reggie Law, Oak Ridge Playhouse managing artistic director. “I'm proud that the Playhouse plays a role in bringing folks to Jackson Square, because we draw our audiences from a five-county region.”
Law hopes the near future will see a nightclub and tavern established in the district.
“People arriving from outside Oak Ridge want a place to go before and after our plays along with the good variety of restaurants that already exist,” he says. “The Playhouse has been here a long time, and it's nice to see all the renewed activity occurring nowadays in Jackson Square.”