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Residential lake development just might mean economic boom for state’s rural communities

There’s just something about living on the water. It’s a growing trend, and one that can mean economic development for Mississippi.

Real estate developer Will Randall calls it a magical thing. “National research shows that water frontage is the number one amenity people want. It’s a universal attraction,” he says. “It’s the peacefulness as much as actually doing things on the water.”

His company, Community Development Group, is primarily involved with master plan communities, and started the Browning Creek community in Oktibbeha County in 1997. It’s a 600-acre development with a 160-acre lake, and only a half-dozen waterfront sites remain out of 126. And, it’s only 12 minutes from the Mississippi State University campus. He was also involved in the initial development of Reunion in Madison County, a community with two lakes.

Jumping in

In recent years, state government has gotten involved with the concept.

Joy Foy and Jack Moody work with lake development for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) where they’re on an educational fact-finding mission to let counties know the benefits of this type of development. Their main focus now is the rural model. They point out the widespread appeal and the state’s obvious natural resources of abundant open land, 60 inches of rain per year and more than 83,500 stream miles in 10 major river basins.

“It’s a vision of economic development for the state that was conceived by Leland Speed when he was executive director of MDA,” Foy says. “He put his considerable talents and resources into trying to develop the state’s resources in new ways. He came up with the idea of lake development because he knows people like to live on water. It’s soothing to the soul. Mississippi has rivers and the Gulf, but he turned his attention to lakes.”

Moody, a geologist by trade, worked as a natural resource developer with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality before joining MDA in August 2006.

“The initial vision was sports lakes, and we built an economic model with the Institutes of Higher Learning,” he says. “For the model, we used a 200-acre lake with 200 housing units around it at $250,000 per piece. Leland had in mind these would primarily be sold to out-of-state people as vacation homes.”

The original model, Moody says, was to use the balance of the development for optimum wildlife management where city dwellers could come to enjoy nature. “He felt there are enough people out there who can afford that,” he says of Speed’s idea.

Foy and Moody called a few rural counties to ask the rhetorical question of whether or not an additional $50,000 per year in tax revenue would be helpful. Realistically, they say the revenue can be $500,000 to $600,000 per year.

Balanced approach

“Those are public funds brought in with private investment. The counties don’t invest any money,” Moody says. “It’s a good balance of economic development, social benefit and environmental stewardship. Plus, these people will infuse new ideas into the counties.”

MDA is moving forward to bring lake developers into the state, and is putting information together to help them make decisions. Foy points out that the urban model works the same as a rural model.

“Canebreak is a good example of that,” she says. “It is an amazing property for Lamar County. It was built with private funds, and the infrastructure was built to county specifications.”

Forward thinking

Foy, who is director of MDA’s asset development/regional services division, is charged with working with communities for which traditional smoke stack-chasing will not work or is not part of the communities’ vision. In those cases, lake development may be the ticket.

“We’re working with several developers who’re still in project mode,” she says. “We’re looking to put in two lakes a year. There’s a lot of forward thinking, which will bring increased population and that drives in retail, which brings in ad valorem taxes.”

In addition to Randall’s Browning Creek, she cites Lake Caroline in Madison County and Lake Edens in Jasper County as good examples of the rural model.

“Lake Edens is a 700-acre lake with 500 units. The development is paying about $375,000 per year in taxes to Jasper County,” she says. “It started as a fishing village, but the houses are getting bigger. They even have a fishing rodeo there.”

Oxbow lakes formed from bends in rivers are also a possibility for lake development. But whatever the type of lake, MDA is promoting development with a master plan to meet environmental criteria.

“We’re on a speaking circuit now to let counties know what it can mean to them,” Moody says.

Randall thinks the lake development trend will continue even as land prices and regulations for digging lakes both increase. “It’s a lifestyle thing. Water is not emulated, and lake front property goes at a premium and is the property to go first,” he says.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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