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Costco — a long time coming and not there yet

Renaissance-map_tall_rgbBy JACK WEATHERLY

It is no secret that Costco has had trouble trying to move into the metro Jackson market.

Which is not to say that it hasn’t been recruited – openly in one case, and not so openly in another.

Last year, its efforts to build a store on Lakeland Boulevard in Jackson were rebuffed by the city Planning Board, which turned down a proposal to rezone acreage for commercial development.

And as recently as June of this year, Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber said he was still in touch with Costco, according to The Clarion-Ledger.

Now  the large-volume discounter is having trouble trying to establish itself in neighboring Ridgeland.

It will hold a meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. at Ridgeland High School to present its case directly to the community.

The site it wants has a long, troubled history that predates the Seattle-based chain’s efforts in Ridgeland.

A fraudulent development scheme that landed two brothers in federal prison contributed to the acreage that will become Phase III of the Renaissance at Colony Park lifestyle mall lying untouched for a decade.

Currently, Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee has borne the brunt of opposition in public gatherings where he was criticized for not being forthcoming in the merchandiser’s plans in the city.

He relented last week at a meeting at Ridgeland High and acknowledged that Costco was interested.

On Monday, McGee held a press conference at City Hall to present his views  and issued a news release titled “The Process.”

The process is “secretive by nature” to avoid tipping off other communities and corporate competitors.

The circulation of “incorrect information” forced his hand, the release said.

McGee got permission from the developer of Phase III of the Renaissance retail center, the Mattiace Co., and Costco  to reveal that the discounter was indeed planning to build there.

“There has been claims of large 18-wheelers going up and down Highland Colony Parkway through the roundabout, which is not the case,” and even that the roundabout, which is a connector to Old Agency Road, would be removed, McGee said in a telephone interview.

Delivery to Costco—if it does indeed build in Phase III of the Renaissance – and other retailers will be done late at night or early in the morning, said McGee, who has been mayor for 26 years.

Additionally, the city is in the final phase of acquiring rights-of-way for the

$19 million extension of Lake Harbour Drive, which will “create a great east-west corridor to from Highway 51 over to Highland Colony Parkway.”  Also, Colony Park  Boulevard, which is north of Renaissance, is to be extended to Highway 51.

Still, McGee said, a traffic study will be required of Costco. The developer, the Mattiace Co., has said it plans to build Phase III simultaneously with Phase II.

McGee said in a telephone interview Monday that in fact that the company has an option on land in the development. “They’re going to buy the land,” he said.

McGee noted that there is a buffer — low-density office parks — between Phase III and some “high-dollar” residences to the west. There is some retail development along the west side of Highland Colony, he said.

The Phase III and buffer property were part of an $80 million fraudulent development scheme by brothers Charles Evans Jr. and Chris Evans, both of whom pleaded guilty in January 2011. The scheme also included land elsewhere in Mississippi and also in Texas.

Charles Evans was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in December 2011 and Chris Evans was sentenced to a 14-year term.

Banks that took possession of the Highland Colony Parkway acreage wanted to sell it off piecemeal for “just any kind of retail that would go there,” but the city blocked that effort, McGee said.

“Any time we can do it in a master-plan development . . . we feel good about that.”

He added that if Costco builds there, “they want to own the property. They don’t want to rent, they want it to be a long-term investment.”

About Jack Weatherly

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