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JRA rejects request to release development deal with Tampa developer

Tampa’s Robinson Callen Development may soon have company in a quest to build a convention center hotel in Jackson.

While Robinson Callen has a head start with its unsolicited $60 million proposal having received an official blessing from the Jackson Redevelopment Authority’s Board of Commissioners on June 25, Austin, Texas, hotel developer Journeyman Austin wants to submit a proposal as well.

Journeyman Austin’s Jackson representative, Don Hewitt of Advanced Technologies Building Solutions, said Journeyman is preparing an unsolicited proposal to submit to Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who received the Robinson Callen proposal from former Mayor Harvey Johnson on his way out of office. Latrice Westbrooks, interim spokeswoman for Lumumba, said the new mayor’s willingness to consider a competing proposal could hinge on the window that is in place for action on the Robinson Callen bid.

convention hotel rendering_rgbThe mayor’s office made no response either last week or this week on whether Lumumba would consider an alternative proposal. However, at least one council member wants to review alternative proposals and would also support issuing an Request for Proposals for the hotel project. “Competition makes the world go round,” said Councilman Tony Yarber, representative from Ward 6 who served as council president last year.

“We received this one as an unsolicited proposals and anyone else is more than welcome to submit a new” unsolicited proposal,” he said.

“I’ll be interested in maybe opening it up for a new RFP.”

Though Yarber has not seen the Robinson Callen development deal, he expects its first stop through council channels would be the Economic Development Committee.”That was one of the reasons I created the Economic Development Committee so that when one of these things comes to the council, we can look at it real closely,” he said, though he conceded that no longer being council president — a position now held by Councilman Charles Tillman — he can’t be entirely sure the committee will get a review.

Not much has been disclosed publicly about the Robinson Callen proposal other than the company plans to build a 12-floor hotel and surface parking lot on 14 acres across Pascagoula Street from the Jackson Convention Complex, The city regained the 14 acres from hotel developer Transcontinental Realty of Dallas after its years of trying to get a hotel built came to naught.

Robinson Callen has also pledged to limit the city’s financial stake to $9 million in loans the company would access if room occupancies fell short of projections during the first five years of operation.

Further specifics, including the occupancy projections that would trigger the loans, have remained under lock and key at the Jackson Redevelopment Authority. The JRA’s interim executive director, Willie Mott, denied a Mississippi Business Journal Open Records law request for the development agreement with Robinson Callen the JRA governing board executed on June 25.

Mott previously said the agreement was undergoing a legal review but in a July 8 letter rejecting the open records request, he said the agreement is incomplete. However, he conceded in the same letter the JRA board has authorized “execution” of the agreement.

The MBJ views the refusal to release an agreement executed in public session a violation of the Mississippi Open Records law.

Hewitt said he suspects that “someone somewhere has taken an oath of secrecy” on the project with the aim of ensuring it goes through without competing proposals. Keeping it secret also prevents another developer such as Journeyman from knowing the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses, he added.

Though Journeyman Austin has not seen the Robinson Callen development proposal, the company thinks it can present an attractive proposal that would offer features such as a parking garage and neighboring retail, said

Hewitt’s firm partnered with Journeyman Austin in November 2011 on a convention hotel proposal that competed with the Transcontinental Realty proposal. The City Council later shelved both proposals but promised Journeyman Austin it could submit a new proposal once the city revived the project.

Robert Gallup, vice president of Journeyman Austin, said in a late June interview that he was “taken aback” by the city’s dropping of its previous pledge of issuing a new Request for Proposals.

“It’s frustrating,” Gallup said. “We would love to respond.”

Gallup said his company could get a proposal ready within 14 days. “We’re ready to go,” he said.

Hewitt could not say for certain that the Journeyman’s cost for building the hotel complete with a parking structure and retail would come in at or close to Robinson Callen’s $60 million estimate. “We’re going to leave the final cost numbers up to Journeyman,” he said, acknowledging that like Robinson Callen’s, Journeyman’s proposal would require some public dollars.

Hewitt said he has received no indications from Mayor Lumumba’s office that a Journeyman proposal would get a look. “I have no real expectations,” he said. “I would love for them to consider what we are offering. We are not asking for preferential treatment. We just want to be allowed to submit a bid.”


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