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Bill to prevent extensions on retail center tax rebates fails

By TED CARTER

Sen. David Blount is not giving up after failing to kill an extension of tax rebate eligibility for shopping centers deemed cultural or visitor attractions.

Two of the five retail centers approved for the sales tax rebates have not begun construction but remain eligible for four-year extensions. A fourth project, Flowood’s Pinelands Lifestyle Center, received an extension in January.

Without the extensions, the projects would lose eligibility for the tax incentives on July 1 unless they completed construction by then.

Blount’s bill, Senate Bill 2018, did not make it out of the Finance Committee last week. The Jackson lawmaker said Monday he hopes to persuade Sen. Joey Fillingane to amend his bill, SB2074, to prevent the state from giving developers further extensions on completing their projects.

The extensions are important to developers who have retail centers planned but have not begun construction. By keeping their eligibility they can obtain rebates that return up to 30 percent of their construction costs.

Legislators in 2014 refused to renew a 2013 expansion of the state’s tourism-incentives law to include certain types of shopping centers. The expansion gave retail centers that received designations as Mississippi cultural or visitor destinations rebates of 80 percent of sales taxes collected over 10 years, or until collections reach 30 percent of the construction costs.

However, retail center developers who had applied and qualified for the rebates are entitled to ask for extensions of up to four years, and possibly extensions beyond that time. That’s the provision Blount wanted to kill and still hopes to through Fillingane’s bill.

The idea, he said, “is to get a fixed-end date for a bad program,” Blount said, citing the unfair competition created for retailers not receiving the rebate and an economic development impact of merely moving around low-paying retail jobs.

Blount’s legislation would have eliminated the shopping center-tourism rebates on all eligible projects not completed by July 1.

Passage would have meant disqualification for the rebates for Freedom Real Estate, a Slidell, La., company that wants to build a $165 million retail center on land in Flowood owned by the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. The project, the Pinelands Lifestyle Center, received a four-year extension on Jan. 11 from Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Glenn McCullough Jr. The extension puts the project in line for $48.7 million in rebates from the state.

Among projects still eligible for extensions are Jackson developer Andrew Mattiace’s new phase of his Renaissance at Colony Park development in Ridgeland. Mattiace received a certificate in June 2014 for $29 million in sales tax rebates, or 30 percent of the $96.8 million project.

Like Renaissance, Gulf Coast Galleria in D’Iberville  has yet to begin construction but is still eligible for an extension. The Tanger Outlets in Southaven and Outlets of Mississippi in Pearl are open and receiving the rebates.

Blount said current law is unclear to the point that developers may be able to keep returning to the MDA every four years to ask for new extensions.

“It was a bad idea that should never have been passed,” Blount said, and added not eliminating the extensions could cost taxpayers $200 million.

Freedom Real Estate’s Pinelands Lifestyle Center did not receive a lease option from the Airport Authority until December. It agreed to pay the Airport Authority $25,000 for a 270-day option on 130 acres at Airport Road and Lakeland Drive.

Charles Theus, a representative of Freedom Real Estate, said construction is expected to start later this year. “One of the stores wants to open at the end of the year,” he said in a January interview.

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