JSU alums helping to make Mississippi’s first tech district a reality

June 11, 2021

by Jackson State University

D’Angelos Svenkeson graduated from JSU in 2012 and is co-founder of the NEOO firm, which focuses on creative urban planning and real estate development. (Photo special to JSU)

For quite some time, news of a $150 million tech district in the capital city has been brewing. The woman behind the plan is Dr. Nashlie Sephus, an applied science manager for Amazon AI and Jackson, Mississippi native.

However, two Jackson State University alums are tasked with executing all major project details for the state’s first-tech district. The flagship project is expected to include over 700,000 square footage of living, work, play spaces and include an electronics lab, maker space, creative office, a food hall, art studios, co-working, event and training spaces.

D’Angelos Svenkeson, JSU class of 2012, is the co-founder of NEOO Partners, Inc., a national place-based solutions firm focused on creative urban planning and real estate development strategies for public and private sector clients. The firm, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, has been retained as the lead master planning and development consultant for the tech district.

NEOO is also leading several master planning developments and the rebuilding efforts following last summer’s civil unrest in Minneapolis.

Christina Berry is a senior planning advisor for NEOO. She and Svenkeson both hold master’s degrees from JSU’s urban and regional planning program.

“As a senior planning advisor, my role is to execute Dr. Nashlie Sephus’s vision and make it a reality. I manage the project’s day-to-day development, planning analysis and relationship building,” explained Berry, whom Svenkeson brought on board to lead the way for NEOO’s Deep South expansion.

The tech district will replace about 14 abandoned acres of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings near the heart of downtown Jackson.

“I’m excited to add this very capable and talented group of planners to our team. I was intentional about working with a Black development and planning firm,” shared Sephus, who is also founder of the Jackson-based non-profit TheBeanPath.org.

“From day one, they have completely understood our vision for the tech district and have even helped to expand the scope of what we are developing.”

Berry is lending her 20 years of urban planning experience to helping Mississippi gain its first tech district. (Photo special to JSU)

Berry said she is particularly confident that Svenkeson understands the Jackson area and brings experience with national best practices in urban redevelopment and public-private partnerships to the region as a private-sector leader.

“We (NEOO) are also planning to continue our Deep South expansion with services aimed at supporting economic development in small towns, master planning around HBCU’s and championing the redevelopment of blighted areas with culturally responsive innovation and art districts,” she detailed.

Berry added that she absolutely loves urban planning. “The tech district, like most planning and real estate projects, is dynamic.”

So far, she shared, the concept plan for the tech district is nearing completion with an anticipated public reveal for early June. Among other uses, the plan aims to bring about 400+ units of housing into the core of Jackson, along with staple amenities and regional attractions like the fanciful Bean Barn Event Center, which will be home to technology competitions, conferences, hackathons, including weddings, banquets, and town hall meetings.

The alum said she views urban planning as a way for creatives to address social, economic, and environmental issues through an integrative approach that includes housing, transportation, community engagement, land-use and public-private partnerships.

Berry, from Mendenhall, said her first job after graduating from JSU was with a Jackson civil engineering firm. She landed the job with the assistance of another fellow JSU alum, Alysia Davis. Davis is also a graduate of the University’s urban and regional planning program.

“I have been very fortunate to work in my career field and be supported by my JSU network from day one,” said Berry, who now boasts 20 years of experience.

When it comes to the sheer magnitude of the tech district, Berry is grateful for the opportunity.

“Nashlie is a visionary, has a heart for community, a love for Jackson, and a passion for using technology to transform lives. To be in a position to help another young Black woman fulfill her dreams by doing work I love is indescribable,” she added.

A Request for Qualification from architectural and design firms for the multi-million-dollar district will be released in early summer, with the expectation of construction beginning later this fall. The tech district project will be developed over the next five years.

For more information about leasing space, investing in the district or submitting a proposal for the RFQ, email Berry at berry@neoopartners.com.

About NEOO Partners, Inc.

NEOO Partners, Inc. is celebrating 3 years in business in 2021. Headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, NEOO is a growing national place-based solutions firm focused on providing creative urban planning and real estate development strategies for public and private sector project leaders. A Cohort 3 graduate of the Lunar Startups Accelerator, NEOO Partners has grown 300% since the accelerator, is master planning over 130 acres, with $300M in development, and now has a presence in over 12 cities in Minnesota and Mississippi. To learn more, visit www.neoopartners.com.