By TAYLOR VANCE / Daily Journal

TUPELO • City officials are momentarily halting progress on BancorpSouth Arena renovations due to a problem with one of the bids.

The Tupelo City Council voted Thursday night to hold 11 construction bids  for 60 days and to reject another bid for drywall work and request new bids for that work.

The council did this on the recommendation of Casey Rogers, the president of Innovative Construction Management.

Rogers, the construction manager of the arena project, recommended the council reject the drywall bid because there was only one bid submitted for that portion of the work and that one bid came in at a higher price than was originally anticipated.

At a Monday after council agenda review, Rogers told the council the early estimate for the total cost of the arena expansion project is at $15.2 million, which drew criticism from Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan.

Bryan questioned the project Monday, and said it has gone over the original budget.

“You’ve got a $14 million budget. That’s laid out in the minutes,” Bryan said at the meeting. “So, we need to figure out whether we need to modify the budget or if they need to cut the project price. All that needs to happen before we accept any bids.”

This prompted Kim Hannah, the city’s chief financial officer, to say the council has already approved the city to borrow $15.3 million in bond debt for the project.

“We initially thought (the project) was going to be $14.5 million,” Hanna said. “We had decided we would go ahead and bring to you a possibility of $15 million. We did issue the bonds. They did come up to a total of $15.3 million. We had no intention of spending the $15.3 million.”

Hanna told the council she thought Rogers had been doing a great job of monitoring the cost of the arena project and has been trying to save money when he could.

Don Lewis, the city’s chief operating officer, said the city originally intended to have a bond debt of $16 million for the project and have $14 million go to the arena and have $2 million go toward a a project for the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, but the CVB project never came to fruition.

Arena officials then told the council that there was some concern about whether $14 million would be enough to fully expand the arena. Lewis said official told the city they could do it, but there would have to be some amenities cut in the project.

“The concern was there wasn’t a need to cut it. Let’s get it right,” Lewis said. “We went back and explained that to the council. We went forward and issued over $15 million in bonds.”

Bryan later told the Daily Journal he made the comments in the meeting because he firmly believes the city should have one budget for this project to operate in, instead of the city having a proposed budget and larger cushion of available bond debt.

“If we’re spending $15 million, it ought to be struck in the minutes exactly what the city council approved to renovate the coliseum,” Bryan said.

Rogers told the Daily Journal the company had to increase the cost of the project after the company ran into “unforeseen conditions” with the soil under the parking lot at the site that cost approximately $500,000.

Bryan has previously criticized the project for going over the initial $14 million proposed project estimate and not sticking to the initial estimate.

In May, Mayor Jason Shelton and his administration asked the council to approve a $15.3 million bond bill, which also caused Bryan to question the entire project cost.

“I think we better stick with $14 million and they better sharpen the pencil over there,” Bryan previously said at the meeting. “We’re not even out of the gate and they are already asking for more. We’re off on a bad foot already.”

In September 2018, the city scaled back some of its plans for the expansion because of rising costs. Since February, Shelton first told the City Council the project would cost $14 million.

Bryan did vote with the other seven members of the council in rejecting the drywall bid and holding the other 11 bids on Tuesday.

A large portion of the renovation work includes expanding the conference center, which is located next to the arena, and upgraded amenities.