We’ve been following the District at Eastover, a mixed-use project Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to build on the site of the Old Blind School, for six months now.
To be honest, the project seems cursed. Duckworth and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached an impasse late last year in their negotiations to hammer out a lease deal. Then, the Legislature tweaked the legislation governing the parameters of the project to allow the state to sell the land instead of lease it. Duckworth said at the time that he couldn’t pursue the project unless he could buy the land.
So things finally started looking like they were gathering momentum until yesterday afterrnoon, when Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill allowing the sale of the land.
“Without the authority to lease the property, the bill would have essentially required the sale of the property at a time when commercial property prices are at historic lows,” Barbour said in his veto message.
Barbour also wants a provision inserted into the bill that would give the state the option of leasing the land, instead of allowing it only to sell it. He also took issue with the clause that would have given the state the right to buy back the land after 10 years if conditions of the development had not been met. “But the bill did not specify the purchase price,” Barbour said. “It is not clear to me whether the repurchase price would account for any improvements made to the property, which would certainly deter potential buyers and lenders alike from investing and developing this property,” Barbour continued.
On the bright side, Barbour said in his veto message that he would include revamped legislation in a special session, if necessary, when the Legislature returns April 20 to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2011.
When this project first hit our radar last fall, it seemed like a win-win. The Old Blind school sits in the middle of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state — Eastover — and is not generating any revenue. Because of that, Magnolia Marketplace was convinced a deal would emerge quickly. But valuable land is still being wasted. Maybe there’s still some political paranoia over the state entering into an agreement — whether it’s a lease or sell — with a private party after the disaster of the beef plant. What is certain is the state has a chance to get a much bigger return off the land than what it’s getting now, which is nothing.
This makes entirely too much sense not to get done.