Barring a late surprise, the winner in the competition to be the new home of the Mississippi Department of Revenue should be known by the middle of next week, state officials say.
The Department of Finance & Administration late Thursday afternoon opened the ‘final and best” lease offers from representatives of the three properties still in the running—downtown Jackson’s Landmark Center, Clinton’s South Pointe Business Park and Ergon’s Diversified Technologies Complex in Ridgeland.
An RFP evaluation team made up of representatives of the Department of Finance & Administration (DFA) and the Department of Revenue (DOR) is assessing the final offers. The final offers allowed bidders an opportunity to review and revise their proposals to reflect any changes that might be necessary as a result of the test fits and evaluations completed earlier this month, said Kym Wiggins, DFA spokeswoman. The DOR must have at least 175,000 square feet as well as an additional 30,000 square feet to house a printing shop.
The final selection decision rests with the DFA, an agency that functions as the state’s property manager.
Leaders in both the House and Senate are eager to know the DFA’s final choice. The House this week killed a Senate-passed bill authored by Sen. David Blount mandating that the state purchase the Landmark Center as the DOR home. The Senate Property Committee amended a House bill introduced by Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton to remove South Pointe as the new DOR HQ and replace it with the Landmark Center.
With Blount’s bill dead and Gunn’s bill altered to become the opposite of what the Speaker wanted, the DFA’s selection has become immensely important, Blount said in an interview late Thursday afternoon.
With the DFA’s decision, “We’ll know what the best deal is,” he said. “We’ll know what the cost to rent is and whether to go forward with the legislation or not.”
Blount’s bill called for buying the 330,000 square-foot Landmark while Gunn’s bill specified either a purchase or lease at South Pointe.
With the final offers available for lawmakers to examine, they can determine whether the $7.4 million price for the Landmark is a sound deal. The building at 175 E. Capitol Street had been on the market last year for $14 million.
Whatever property is chosen, the state is likely to get an attractive lease deal, based on office vacancy rates in the three areas in which the competing properties are situated. The Landmark is entirely vacant and South Pointe recently lost ADP which relocated its operations to Augusta, Ga., leaving empty a pair of floors of about 30,000 square-feet each.
As the decision nears, supporters of moving the DOR and its 400 or so employees to downtown Jackson have launched a public relations push, one with a half page newspaper ad in Thursday’s edition of the Clarion-Ledger and former Gov. William Winter with a lengthy letter to the editor in the same issue.”The Landmark Center is the clear choice,” said the advertisement signed by business and civic leaders Jim Barksdale, John Palmer and Leland Speed. Barksdale and Speed both are former interim executive directors of the Mississippi Development Authority.
“This is an important issue that doesn’t need to be determined by lobbyists or political favor, the trio added in their newspaper advertisement, a reference to Speaker Gunn’s last minute killing of legislation in the 2012 session authorizing a purchase of the Landmark.
Former Gov. Winter, in his letter to the Clarion-Ledger, said either buying or leasing the Landmark Center “makes sense by every reasonable standard.”
Winter said the Landmark as DOR headquarters would be “a central and convenient location for one of the state’s most important agencies and enable it to serve the public more efficiently. “It will be a vitally needed addition to the center of our Capital City,” he wrote.
South Pointe Business Park, the former WorldCom HQ, has had some high profile promoting as well. A couple of weeks ago, Clinton Mayor Rosemary Aultman gathered the press in the main lobby of the office complex to tout South Pointe as the best choice. She said she wanted the decision to come through the RFP process – not through politicking in the Capitol.
“Frankly, we are comfortable South Pointe is the best facility,” she said, reciting a list of features and amenities that include ample meeting space, a cafeteria, landscaped grounds including a walking trail, plentiful parking and easy access off Interstate-20.