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Tax base a long way from full strength

This shopping center in Yazoo City may not be ready for patrons for another six months.

This shopping center in Yazoo City may not be ready for patrons for another six months.

Town’s largest shopping complex may not open for six months

 

The clean-up continued last week in Yazoo City, and it could be four to six months before the major shopping center in the area is back to full strength.

A.G. Helton, who owns the 49 Junction Shopping Center at the intersection of highways 49 and 16, said the southern end of the strip suffered major damage when wind and debris tore apart a metal building.

“Pretty much destroyed it,” Helton said. “The rest of the structure is concrete. It withstood. I was really proud of that. We’re having to make the roof water tight. Some parts of the roof were ripped. Air conditioners were blown and the roof membrane has been leaking ever since. Once we do that, we’ll have electricians up there. We do have some power back to some parts of the building, just depending on the damage at that particular spot.”

Home to department stores and a handful of state offices, 49 Junction sits right in the middle of the area most heavily damaged by the EF4 tornado that roared through town April 24.

Helton said it was possible the WIC office would open by late last week — “we’re really encouraged by that,” he said — but the best guess he could muster last Tuesday morning of how long it would take the center to reach full strength was between four and six months.

“My banker and psychiatrist have both asked me that same question,” Helton said. “As soon as I can. A lot depends on the damage to the building. Obviously, on the south end, that may take a little bit longer than a tenant on the north end. I’m hoping within four to six months to have it completely back up and going. Of course if I can get it sooner, I’m going to shoot for that. Otherwise, we’re trying to get an assessment (on the damage) and develop a detailed game plan at this point.”

Helton admitted that the financial assessment would be large. 

“It’s a pretty safe bet that it will have two commas in it,” he said. “It’s going to be a pretty big claim.”

That meshes with what Henry Cote, executive director of the Yazoo County Chamber of Commerce, told the Mississippi Business Journal last week.

“I have actually asked the tax commission for a projection,” Cote said. “I’m trying to find that out, too.”

Most of Cote’s energy has been devoted to raising money for his members — and some non-members — whose businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed by the storm. A lot of them were either severely underinsured or totally uninsured, Cote said.

To help, Cote set up a relief fund a few days after the storm. So far, the response has been modest, Cote said.

“I’ve got a little bit, but not much.”

He hopes that’s about to change, though.

Cote said a NASA employee called and volunteered to update the chamber’s website for free, making it interactive and installing a PayPal function to retrieve donations for relief.

The most attractive part about the upgrades, Cote said, is that the money will go directly toward the businesses that need it, and not pass through multiple channels before landing in the spot the donor originally intended.

In all, 40 businesses in Yazoo County were damaged; 15 were destroyed.

A.G. Helton, owner of 49 Junction Shopping Center:

Cote is working with Gov. Haley Barbour’s office and state and federal relief agencies to set up a meeting with local business owners to show them the full range of available assistance.

“We just have to deal with it as it comes,” Cote said. “We’re trying to be proactive. We’ve gotten word out to the national chamber that we need help. We’re doing all we can to salvage the tax base.”

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