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Convention district expansion proposal gets OK

Enlarged footprint extends east to Pearl River and South to U.S. 80, taking in portions of the long-planned $1B Two Lakes project

The dormant Two Lakes project and other downtown Jackson revitalization efforts could get a boost from a plan to expand the footprint of the Urban Renewal District created for the Jackson Convention complex and a planned convention headquarters hotel.

Projects built within the renewal district could be eligible for city-backed Urban Renewal Bonds, officials say.

Council members last Tuesday voted 4-2 to proceed with the district expansion over objections it would move the city closer to cementing a partnership deal with prospective developer Transcontinental Investors, or TCI, of Dallas. TCI and the city are seeking $96 million in Urban Renewal Bonds, for which each would be responsible for half.

City Attorney Peter Teeuwissen assured the council that approving the expanded renewal district would not bear on the bond issue.

The current district takes in the Convention Complex on Pascagoula Street and land targeted for the convention hotel and a mixed-use development between Pascagoula and Pearl streets. With the expansion, the Urban Renewal District would extend east to the Pearl River and south to Highway 80, Teeuwissen said, taking in portions of the long-planned $1 billion-plus Two Lakes project.

The decade-old project, stalled by flood and levee issues, would create about 10,000 acres of land, which previously flooded, for development once a flood control lake is created. A previous plan called for two lakes but now only a single lake is envisioned, said Robert Muller of the Twin Lakes Foundation.

The 10,000 acres represent the upper level flat wood terraces of the floodplain, the foundation’s website says.

Meanwhile, a push is underway to consider seeking new partnership proposals for a convention headquarters hotel.

At least two Jackson City Council members want the city to drop its pursuit of a partnership with TCI Realty of Dallas in favor of finding a new developer. A third member, Democrat Tony Yarber of Ward 6, says he would like to see “who would be willing to bite.”

Council members Quentin Whitwell, a Republican and Ward 1 representative, and Ward 3’s Kenneth Stokes, a Democrat, said they are uncomfortable working with a developer inherited from the mayoral administration of the late Frank Melton.

Mayor Harvey Johnson has proposed a development partnership plan to build the hotel with $96 million in bonds, of which $14.3 million would be go for buying back 3.4 acres the Melton administration sold TCI. That property has been designated for the convention hotel, as well as eventually a limited service hotel and mixed-use development.

Whitwell wants the bond issue capped at the $14.3 million. Until the 3.4 acres is back in the city’s hands, “we have a gun held to our head,” said Whitwell, who joined with Stokes in voting against the expanded renewal district, which must still undergo a vote by the Jackson Redevelopment Authority Board and a final vote by the council.

Stokes said he is uncomfortable with the amount of public money to be used in the hotel deal, which calls for the city’s general fund to backstop its 50 percent share. Mayor Harvey Johnson says a TCI market study concluded hotel revenues would be sufficient to cover bond debt.

Stokes is unhappy with the proposal and says getting the land back is the current priority. Without the parcel, the city gives TCI all the leverage, he said.

The developer needs to sweeten the deal for the city if it is to proceed, Stokes insisted. “If they are going to use us, at least kiss us or something.”

As proposed, the hotel would have 16 floors and 309 rooms.

Mayor Harvey Johnson calls the project essential to the financial survival of the city’s three-year-old Convention Complex and insurance against further decay of the area around the center.


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