By JACK WEATHERLY
The Ridgeland Board of Aldermen voted 6-1 on May 6, 2014 to support a developer’s application for a sales tax rebate that could provide up to 30 percent of the cost a $96.8 million expansion of the Renaissance at Colony Park mall.
The resolution states that the sales tax that would otherwise go into city coffers is for “property currently owned by Renaissance at Colony Park LLC.”
The problem is the limited liability corporation did not own that property, according to Madison County land records.
However, the Mississippi Development Authority approved on June 10, 2014 the application for the property, which is at 1000 Highland Colony Parkway.
The fact that the planned development is to have a Costco Wholesale store as anchor has encountered stiff opposition from nearby residents because of fears of increased traffic and negative impact on property values.
Mayor Gene McGee refused on Tuesday to discuss the language in the resolution, saying that “I’m not going to comment on that. I’m not going to get into the legal aspects of it. Those are things that have to be settled between [the developer] and MDA.”
Ken Heard, alderman for Ward 1, in which the proposed expansion is located, said in an interview on Friday that he expects a lawsuit to be filed soon.
Andrew Mattiace, managing member of the limited liability corporation, did not return a phone call seeking information on the matter. The MDA’s policy is not to comment on pending deals.
The $29.6 million in sales tax that would be diverted to the developer would help the project to create 320 full-time jobs and 107 part-time jobs within two years after the completion of the project, according to the application to the MDA. The payroll would be $11.5 million at that point, the developer said.
The MDA had already released the application, with deletions, and the certification of it. But Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary on Sept. 3 ordered that the entire file on the deal be sealed, granting the request sought by the developer because he agreed that the file contains “confidential and proprietary information and/or information that would be considered trade secrets,” thus making it exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act.
The MDA agreed that the Renaissance expansion qualified under state law as a “cultural retail attraction,” which “combines destination shopping with cultural or historical interpretive elements specific to Mississippi” with a private investment of at least $50 million and is part of a master-planned development with total investment of at least $100 million and has a minimum of 50 retail tenants and 300,000 square feet under roof.
Another aspect of the deal that could raise eyebrows is the fact that Mattiace told a gathering of several hundred at Ridgeland High School on Aug. 20 that a “boutique hotel” would be built in Phase II of the Renaissance, contiguous to and on the north end of the mall. Phase II would be built simultaneously with Phase III, which is south of the mall.
Attached to the certification of the application is a memo in which Brent Christensen, then executive director of the MDA, asked the Department of Revenue on Nov. 3, 2014 whether a hotel could be considered retail.
“It is recommended . . . the hotel [be] considered an eligible amenity and as retail for the purposes of the Tourism Rebate Program,” Christensen wrote.
Sara Watson of the Department of Revenue agreed in an email that “DOR considers hotels as retail establishments.”