Which brings us to the sticking leaders of the Mississippi House of Representatives gave Jackson and the state’s taxpayers on April 3, the last day for bills to leave committees for floor votes.
The owner of the Landmark Center at 175 East Capitol Street had agreed to sell the circa 1980s office building to the state for $14.1 million — a move international real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield recommended as the most suitable way to accommodate the headquarter needs of the state Department of Revenue. Former Gov. Haley Barbour, Department of Finance and Administration director Kevin Upchurch and Revenue commissioner Ed Morgan fully endorsed the purchase as well.
A bill that would get the deal done had easily cleared the Senate but failed to get a vote — or even any discussion — by the House Public Properties Committee on the April 3 deadline day. Chairman Tom Weathersby — in a gutless act — would say only that the panel did not see fit to let the bill proceed. That, according to others on the committee, translates to Weathersby did not see fit to let the bill proceed.
The sponsor, Sen. David Blount, a Democrat, said he talked with the chairman and his staff about the bill and knew several days ahead of time the bill would not be going anywhere. Blount, whose district includes both Jackson and Clinton, concedes he was told why the spike would occur but — in a gutless move — refused to share that information publicly.
Others involved in the issue aren’t so reluctant. The Landmark option died because Speaker of the House Philip Gunn told Weathersby that a quick death was the only option, say Ben Allen, head of the agency created to boost downtown Jackson development, and John Barton, a Parkway Properties senior vice president who represented the owner of the Landmark, Capitol Street Associates.
Gunn — in yet another gutless move — has not responded to our telephone call regarding his involvement in the issue, nor has he agreed to meet with Allen and Morgan to discuss the matter.
“Someone needs to determine if there was a problem,” Morgan said in an interview last week. “I share your frustration and your desire for those unanswered questions to be answered.”
Allen and Barton say insiders have been clear about Gunn’s motive: Keep the headquarters out of Jackson and increase the likelihood it and its 500 or so employees will wind up in Clinton, or perhaps continue to work in a substandard metal warehouse in neighboring Raymond the state exiled the DOR to 15 years ago.
With the owner of the Landmark likely to begin marketing the building any day now — its major tenant, AT&T vacates in November — bringing a new purchase proposal back to the Legislature in 2013 probably is not an option.
A search for a site — most likely on state-owned land — will have to begin soon.
For taxpayers, building from the ground up will cost between $250 to $300 a square foot, according to the Cushman 7 Wakefield analysis.
The state could have bought the nearly 350,000 square-foot Landmark for about $40 a square foot.
Sticking your neighbor is expensive. But, hey, taxpayers in the poorest state in the nation can cover the cost.
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