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Proposal to form business district languishes while County Line reels

By JACK WEATHERLY 

The left-right combination of two major retailers leaving County Line Road has stunned the retail corridor, but has focused attention on how it’s doing in its fight to compete with newer challengers.

Sam’s Club left Aug. 6 and Best Buy’s last day is Oct. 31.

Meantime, a 75-page survey completed a year ago for the cities of Ridgeland and Jackson to form a business improvement district languishes.

The study suggests a voluntary fee on commercial property along the street that would raise between $1.2 million and $3.5 million annually.

How the revenue would be used hasn’t been decided, because the district has not been formed.

That would take a 60 percent approval from the stakeholders – owners of land and buildings – who would comprise the district, as required by state law.

Thus far, there has been no traction on the Ridgeland side, said Alan Hart, director of community development for that city.

“I have had conversations with some of the larger landowners, and at this point I don’t have their support,” Hart said on Tuesday. “So there’s not much reason to push forward until I get the support of what’s going to appear to be a solid percentage.”

There have been several meetings about the district, the most recent one about a year ago, Hart said.

In June, Hart said that “this discussion about a BID is still very early in the process.”

Ben Allen, president of the Jackson Downtown Partners, is assisting in the effort to form the County Line district.

Because of his background with Jackson Downtown Partners, an improvement district, he was asked to help out with the County Line effort, Allen said.

He said in June that “everything is kumbaya” as far as the two cities are concerned. “We’ve got a lot of out-of-state owners, and these things take time.”

Malls such as Renaissance and Dogwood Festival in Flowood have, in effect, built-in districts to handle things such as landscaping and security.

“Imagine the savings to have one security contract for the whole area,” Allen said.

Allen did not return calls for this article.

Kenneth Vella, general manager for Shoe Carnival at 1043 E. County Line Rd. in Jackson, was an early and vocal supporter of the idea.

“I think it would be awesome,” said Vella, who has managed the store for seven years

An overall idea that emerged from meetings held at the Jackson Hilton was to “rebrand the whole area, make it more of a destination (as it was) back in the mid-’90s,” Vella said Tuesday.

Another idea was to provide carts to take guests from the hotels on the western end of the corridor to shops, and also provide cart rides from cars to the stores, Vella said.

“We’ve got to rebrand it. We’ve got to give people a reason to come back,” Vella said.

Reinvestment in the Hilton and the arrival of Drago’s, an upscale New Orleans-based restaurant next to the hotel, have been encouraging, he said.

Yet, he said, “I think we’re at a standstill, waiting for some people to change their minds,” Vella said. “Hopefully, they will before it gets to point of no return, which, unfortunately, is getting close.

“There’s a lot of jobs at stake and a lot of revenue for both cities.”

Jackson Mayor Tony Yarber reacted quickly to the announcement by Best Buy on Aug. 31 that it would close the door at the end of next month. The next day, the city sent information to the upscale discounter about the Best Buy building.

Yarber had sought to land Costco last year, but encountered stiff opposition to a proposed rezoning that would have been necessary to accommodate the wholesaler.

The city failed to persuade the Jackson Planning Commission to rezone 50 acres of the 300-acre site that includes Smith-Wills Stadium and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

Yarber mentioned the possibility of landing Costco as recently as June of this year.

By that time, it was becoming obvious that many residents of west Ridgeland were opposed to Costco being part of the proposed expansion of Renaissance at Colony Parkway. The primary objection to the store locating on Highland Colony Parkway is increased traffic.

Ken Heard, alderman for Ward 1, which encompasses all of west Ridgeland, including the Renaissance expansion, said recently that some of his constituents are willing to take the matter to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

Madison County property owners in the County Line district would account for 61 percent of revenue, reflecting the fact that they account for 141 of 185 parcels on both sides of the street.

The proposed fee would be 5 cents per square foot of land and building, which would yield $1.2 million from property on both sides of County Line; or 10 cents per square foot, which would yield $2.3 million, or 15 cents per square foot, which would produce $3.5 million.

The district would stretch from Highway 51 on the west to just past Pear Orchard Road on the east.

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