Business on the Rez getting bigger

by

Published: January 12,2004

If plans for a proposed development along the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Madison County pan out, Main Harbor Marina could be the South`s newest hot spot.

Harbor Walk, a proposed multi-million, mixed-use development, gained approval from members of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District Shoreline Committee last month, paving the way for developers John Burwell of Jackson and John Hannigan of Bethesda, Md., to build more than 100 high-rise condominiums, a hotel, offices, shops and restaurants around the marina. A boardwalk would connect the proposed development, which would stretch from Old Trace Park on Rice Road to The Breakers on Spillway Road.

“I think it`s going to be the most exciting thing that`s ever happened to Jackson from a use standpoint,” said Burwell, who lives in the Overlook Pointe subdivision on the reservoir. “This is something that everybody in the state will be proud of and enjoy. It looks a little rough right now, but with a little TLC, people will be shocked with the end result. Everybody that flies into Jackson goes right over it. It`s going to be a jewel for the state … a great place to be.”

Burwell would also double the number of boat slips from 500 to 1,000 and immediately relocate and expand the marina`s small, difficult-to-access fuel dock to a site near the Cock of the Walk restaurant.

Construction on Harbor Walk`s first phase, valued at $60 million, would begin next year and include 456,000 square feet of new construction, with 264,000 square feet devoted to condominiums, 75,000 square feet to office space, 65,000 square feet representing at least four restaurants and 52,000 square feet of retail space. About 1,260 parking spaces will be added in the two-year project.

Phase II is the most industrious phase, calling for another 200,000 square feet of condominiums, a 175,000-square-foot, 200-room hotel featuring 60,000 square feet of meeting space and an open-air plaza connecting the hotel to the waterfront, 106,000 square feet of retail space, 56,000 square feet devoted to restaurants and 20,000 square feet of office space. Amenities include a specialty grocery store, bakery, laundry and other guest services. Approximately 1,600 parking spaces will be added.

Phase III includes 108,000 square feet of condominiums, 36,000 square feet of retail space, 20,000 square feet of office space and 16,000 square feet for restaurants, with an additional 365 parking spaces. Phase IV is the smallest endeavor, featuring 234,000 square feet of office space, 37,000 square feet for food service and 34,000 square feet of retail space, with another 894 parking spaces.

“It will definitely be a market-driven project,” said Burwell. “I`ll build as many condos as people want.”

Last month, the nine-member Shoreline Committee, representing four state agencies and five Central Mississippi counties, asked board attorney Jim Tohill to draft a bid package to lease and develop the property, which it hopes will be ready to advertise this month. The 165 acres of land and water involved in the development recently appraised for $20.79 million.

“That`s a major step, and comes on the heels of completing all the survey and appraisal work,” said district executive director Ken Griffin, Ph.D. “We’re advertising all the lands around Main Harbor for bid that are not already leased. The basis of the bid package will be the appraised value for each of the parcels.”

Burwell said he felt confident that he and Hannigan, who met through a mutual friend in the hotel industry, would secure the bid. Hannigan has nearly 30 years of hotel development experience, including overseeing the construction of luxury properties in Hawaii and California.

“Everybody`s on the same page,” said Burwell. “This is a huge project that`s taken a long time for me to get my arms around. People are going to be very happy with what we do.”

As part of the agreement, The Dock, a popular nightclub owned by the Deweese family, might be forced to close by Aug. 31. The Deweeses have three leases on the reservoir — the original Main Harbor lease, North Harbor lease and the Boat Works dealership, which recently closed.

“The successful bidder will be expected to negotiate with existing leaseholders,” said Griffin.

Based on a recent survey and property maps, 98.7 acres of land and 65 acres of water, excluding existing leases, is available for lease. Existing leases comprise approximately 72 acres of land and water combined, with water acreage accounting for nearly 75% of the total, said district engineer Andy McNair.

Burwell is lobbying for Harbor Drive to be relocated to the east side of Culley-Brashear Drainage Channel as a four-lane boulevard to accommodate increased traffic demands.

“This part of metro Jackson needs infrastructure improvements badly,” said Griffin. “Before Spillway Road was widened to four lanes, all we had were two-lane roads. Rice Road and Harbor Drive are still two-lanes. It`s very difficult for this whole area to get east and west, and to the interstate. Regardless, it needs to be done.”

The ambitious project may succeed where similar projects failed. Three years ago, a project that would have transformed the 50-acre Old Trace Park into a $7-million recreational playground for Madison County residents, featuring expanded docking, sand beaches, a swimming area and a natural amphitheater, was dropped after nearby homeowners nixed the plan. A proposed conference center also died. Influential boat owners who have enjoyed the relative peace and quiet on the reservoir have been said to stymie growth.

“There was some interest in those leases from another development group some time ago, but nothing recently,” said Griffin. “We have been slow in developing. The last project we did was six years ago, when we handled Mark Jordan`s small Harbor Town development project. We`ll continue to focus on the lower fifth of the reservoir. We`ll continue to upgrade the trail system and parks with major capital additions. Parks are beautiful pieces of grass near the water with very limited older amenities and we’d like to see more opportunities for visitors, such as better water access and picnic areas.”

Last year, real estate developers, architects and builders put the finishing touches on a master plan for The Town of Lost Rabbit, a 260-acre heavily wooded tract of land buffered between the historic Natchez Trace and the reservoir in Madison County. The project, headed by Neopolis, a group of local developers, marked the state`s first traditional neighborhood development (TND) town-planning project. At press time, groundbreaking ceremonies for Lost Rabbit had been postponed.

“A bid`s been awarded for Lost Rabbit to the Neopolis Group, and that`s going to be a $200-million investment,” confirmed Griffin. “Over the next 10 years, the capital investment from both of these projects — Lost Rabbit and Harbor Walk — will approach that of Nissan, and it`s great that two local development groups are leading the efforts so those monies will stay in Mississippi.”

Lost Rabbit and Harbor Walk will feature “livable, walkable, connected communities with true downtowns and a mix of housing types featuring front porches, landscaping and wide sidewalks,” said Griffin. “We’re looking to connect both communities with a water transit system that would carry passengers between the two projects and other key areas of the reservoir.

“This is exactly what the Shoreline Committee envisioned.”

Burwell and the Neopolis Group support each other`s projects. “In fact, we’d like to see four or five more Lost Rabbits on the reservoir,” said Burwell. “When it`s Friday afternoon, we don`t want people talking about going to the coast or Tunica. We want them to head to the reservoir.”

The Shoreline Committee is hoping to negotiate a similar development on Parce
l C, a 92-acre parcel north of the Palisades subdivision.

“The size is a little bit bigger than Seaside,” said Griffin. “Once we have some concept alternatives, we`ll bring it to the Shoreline Committee and then start to talk to different potential development groups and see if there`s any interest. We`ll further refine our ideas, and in a year or two, we might advertise it for bid.”

Plans were recently finalized for Northshore Crossings, a shopping center to be built near Old Fannin and Spillway Road, and anchored by a new full-size, full-service Winn Dixie.

“We’re hoping that if you choose to live here, it will be like living on one of the lakes in the mountain country of Italy,” said Griffin.

The 33,000-acre reservoir, managed by the district without state or local tax dollars, currently provides a water supply to the City of Jackson and approximately 5,000 district leaseholders. Approximately 48 communities with more than 4,600 homes have been developed on reservoir property. An estimated 2.5 million annual visitors frequent the reservoir`s 48 parks and recreational facilities. The district also manages more than 15,000 acres of forestlands, including wildlife and watershed protection.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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