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Redevelopment Authority gives Jackson convention hotel deal thumbs up

JACKSON, Mississippi — The Jackson Redevelopment Authority Wednesday unanimous approved a trade agreement with a Tampa hotel management and development company that wants to build a $60 million convention center hotel here.

Robinson Callen Develoment says it is eager to move ahead with the 330-room hotel and wants to break ground within six months.

Jackson Convention Complex Rendering (Callen)The saving grace of this project, said outgoing- Mayor Harvey Johnson at a press conference Tuesday, is that it would require the city to provide a backstop of only $9 million. The money – if needed to cover hotel revenue shortfalls – would be paid increments of from $2 million to $1 million over a half dozen years.

Harvey called the proposal from Robinson Callen a far better deal than the $90 million investment the city would have had to make in a proposal from Transcontinental Realty Investors, or TCI, a Dallas real estate investment group that worked for years to get a convention center hotel built in Jackson to no avail. TCI wanted city to back construction; Robinson Callen would have to build and open the property before it could ask the city for any money.

Jackson Redevelopment Authority board member Beau Whittington said after the vote that that the deal got a very favorable reception from board members Wednesday. “This is almost a dream come true… that someone like this would come in with an unsolicited proposal,” he said.

All that is left on the JRA’s part is to tweak some lawyer language, Whittington said.

Details of the deal were unavailable for public review. JRA Executive Director Willie Mott refused a request late Wednesday afternoon to release the agreement voted on by the board earlier in the day. He said more work must be done on the agreement before it is released to the public. However, Mississippi’s Open Records law deems a document a public record once it reaches an appointed or elected body for review.

The MBJ will file an Open Records request with the agency Thursday morning.

The Redevelopment Authority’s affirmative vote cleared the way for the deal to go to the Jackson City Council. Several council members and Mayor-elect Chokwe Lumumba were on hand for the press conference Tuesday announcing the hotel. They indicated the deal looks appealing to them.

“I’m certainly impressed by the advantages of this proposal over the one we received before,” Lumumba said.

The  Redevelopment Authority did not put the hotel project through a Request for Proposals process, ostensibly because the Robinson Callen proposal came unsolicited. Executive Director Mott declined to say why the JRA did not do an RFP.

The RFP process proved the undoing of the TCI deal as the JRA on Thankgiving-eve 2011 tried to compress the process from the customary 30 days to 15 days to accommodate TCI’s bonding timeline. The snag came when a new group – Journeyman Austin – presented a proposal during the shortened RFP period.

With a new player on the scene and public criticism over the JRA board’s willingness to accommodate one proposer over another, city council members backed away from both proposals.

That left an impasse, with TCI in possession of about 4.5 acres across from the Convention Complex and demanding the city pay it $14 million for the property, a sum far above what TCI had paid the JRA for the land just a few years before.

As time went by, TCI began looking for a way out and sought a solution that would end its approximately $6 million in debt on the 4.5 acres, according to Mayor Johnson. “They wanted to resolve it and were willing to make concessions,” he said.

Johnson said the city regained the 4.5 acres by agreeing to take over the debt, which is owed to the U.S. Department of Urban Development through a Section 108 loan. Such loans are allocated to local governments for revitalization and redevelopment projects and can be awarded to third parties such as a hotel developer through a public-private partnership.

“The land is worth more than that,” Johnson said of the remaining debt on the 4.5 acres for which the city has regained ownership.

The 4.5 acres are part of the 9 or so acres on which Robinson Callen plans to erect the convention hotel.

As presented, the hotel would have 330 rooms, a full service restaurant, meeting rooms and landscaped surface parking lot. A catwalk across Pascagoula Street would connect the hotel to the Convention Complex.

Robinson Callen VP David Clement said the company envisions a four-to-six month timeline for starting for construction. “We’re on a fast-track,” Clement said after the press conference.

He conceded, though, that a huge amount of work lies ahead.

The work includes lining up financing such as New Market Tax credits, which are allocated by the federal government for urban revitalization and are valued by developers for the financing they offer.

Clement said the developer also wants to obtain financing through establishment of a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. Under this arrangement, at tax rate would be set based on current valuation of the properties in the district. As property values rise, the money collected above the set tax rate and former property values would go into a TIF fund. Money from the fund could, in turn, be put toward the hotel development.

The TIF district presumably would encompass several blocks area around the Convention Complex.

Robinson Callen prefers to develop hotels in city centers, which it has done in such cities as Tampa and Nashville. Jackson’s land availability next to a three-year old convention center appealed greatly to the company, Clement said, and noted Robinson Callen selected Jackson over several other cities.

“It has national appeal,” he said of the Capital City.






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