City reviewing proposals for development

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Jackson is one step closer to turning a now vacant lot across from the Jackson Convention Complex into a vibrant, mixed-use development.

Last week, the city opened proposals from three firms to tackle the project, including two firms who are headquartered in the state.

A team made up of city and community leaders will evaluate the proposals over the next couple of weeks, Director of Planning and Development Mukesh Kumar said.

“We expect evaluations to be fully completed before the end of this month. After that, we’ll take the highest-rated proposal to the city council for their approval to begin the negotiation process,” he said. “Our expected timeline is that we have the negotiations completed by the end of December.”

Kumar said names of the firms aren’t being released during the evaluation process.

Builders chosen will help breathe new life into a 7.75-acre plot next to the convention center that is now a hodgepodge of concrete slabs and gravel parking areas.

“What we’re looking for is a master developer who can put together a long-term, 10 to 15-year plan on how to develop the area based on the concept we have,” he said.

He still hopes to have a firm in place by the spring.

The city enlisted experts to help draw up plans for the acreage earlier this year and in June hosted a “Downtown Development Dialogue” to gather input from the community.

Based on that session, any development must include 50,000 square feet of office space, 90,000 square feet of retail commercial space, 150,000 square feet of entertainment and event space, a 160,000-square-foot hotel, a 500,000-square-foot parking garage and 500,000 square feet of residential space.

The developer will put together a master plan based on those specifics. The document must include a construction plan, financing plan and long-term management plan for the site.

Kumar said he didn’t want to discuss the specifics of the proposals submitted, saying they will likely change during the evaluation and negotiation processes.

“The final plan is actually going to be negotiated, and was not necessarily in their proposals,” he said.

He said the evaluation team is expected to meet again this week to review the proposals. The team is made up of representatives from the planning and development department, the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, Visit Jackson and Downtown Jackson Partners.

 

The developer chosen will also have to be signed off on by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Jackson agreed to hire a developer for the site as part of a loan repayment agreement with the agency.

The city used nearly $7 million in HUD loans to purchase the roughly eight acres across from the convention center on Pascagoula Street, to build a convention center hotel.

Jackson purchased the land on behalf of a developer, who would pay back the debt from proceeds from the hotel.

However, plans to bring in a hotel have never come to fruition.

Former Mayor Frank Melton had entered a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Texas developer TCI to build a hotel and parking garage there. However, in 2011 those plans fell through after the Jackson Redevelopment Authority said the proposal would place a significant financial risk on the city.

In 2013, Jackson assumed payments on $6.7 million in HUD loans. That same year, then Mayor Harvey Johnson announced that he had struck a deal with the Callen Group to build a $60 million hotel. That deal fell through, though, because the city did not go through the state-mandated bidding process before selecting a proposal.

After years of inaction, HUD called the loan in 2017. As part of a repayment agreement, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba agreed to complete a market study of downtown Jackson to determine the area’s needs, as well as bring on experts to draw up plans for the site.

 

Hunden Strategic Solutions was brought on late last year to conduct the market study.

Among findings, the market study determined that Jackson needed a convention center hotel but didn’t have the market to support it. To grow that market, Hunden said the city needed to increase its residential, retail and restaurant offerings downtown.

The report also outlined a number of challenges facing the downtown area, including a lack of events and rental rates that are below the national average, which may not support the development of a convention center hotel.

In the summer, Hunden and Dale Partners Architects drew up plans for the acreage based on the market study.

The city must provide regular reports to HUD updating them on the administration’s progress. “We are exactly on track,” Kumar said. “We’ve beat every milestone by at least a week.”

 

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