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Project awaits movement from DFA

Mixed-use development in Jackson has been mired in delays for more than three years

In early May, Gov. Haley Barbour signed new legislation that will guide negotiations between the state and a developer for a mixed-use development on the site of the Old Blind School in Jackson’s Eastover neighborhood.

Under legislation passed three years ago, the Mississippi Development Authority and the office of the Mississippi Secretary of State were charged with working out a ground lease with a developer to build a development that would feature retail and residential space.

But negotiations between Jackson developer Ted Duckworth, who submitted the only bid to build the project under the old guidelines, and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann stalled earlier this year when the two couldn’t agree on lease terms.

Lawmakers then revisited the issue during the 2010 session and passed the new bill. While the old legislation gave the state a lease-only option, the new bill gives the state the option to sell or lease the land.

Duckworth, president and CEO of Duckworth Realty, has said he prefers to buy the land instead of leasing it.

The new legislation hands over negotiating authority to the Department of Finance and Administration, which will issue the request for proposals and then negotiate a sell or lease with the developer that wins that right.

“We’re just waiting to hear from them,” Duckworth said last week. “We’re continuing to work on the project like we always have.”

An exact timetable for when the DFA will formulate and issue an RFP is not clear, though it could be several months before that happens, based on precedent. The original RFP for the project the MDA issues under the old legislation took several months to come down.

“It’s totally up to the DFA,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, whose district includes the Old Blind School and who has been one of the project’s more vocal supporters.

Although there is legislation that allows the DFA to develop and issue an RFP, there is not a statutory mandate the agency do so, Brown said.

“But I feel certain they will and go ahead with it,” he said. “Although they’re not required to, there is legislative intent and support from the governor’s office.”

The project, which Brown claims will contribute significantly to Eastover and add badly needed tax revenue to Jackson, has never gained any serious momentum in its three-year history.

After Duckworth submitted the only response to the original RFP three years ago, negotiations between him and Hosemann did not advance past the point of hammering out an agreement on terms of a ground lease, which was one of the first steps in the process.

Negotiations broke down all together late last year, with Duckworth saying then that the mechanics of a lease made it too cumbersome to pursue the project any further until there was an option to purchase the land.

Brown called the roadblocks the project has encountered “disappointing. I have no preference as to a lease or a sell. I just want whatever’s best for the city and the state. But I know there were a lot of complaints about the lease process.

“As long as it’s a nice development that contributes to the city aesthetically and financially, I don’t really care if it’s a sale or lease.”


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About Clay Chandler

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