An almost $1 million environmental cleanup project is expected to start this fall at Barnett Reservoir on the site where the Dock once served food in the day and drinks at night.
A popular bar located on the water near Main Harbor Marina, the Dock closed in 2004 and was later dismantled to make room for a development that failed to get off the ground.
The need for remediation was discovered earlier this year when soil testing revealed gasoline, despite the removal of gasoline tanks in the late 1980s and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality’s declaration back then that the site was clean.
The soil testing, an early step in the construction process, gives John Sigman hope that Harbor Walk, a multimillion-dollar, mixed-use development that captured media attention when it was first proposed in 2005 and for many years after that, might come to fruition in some form.
“It leads you to believe they’re getting serious,” said Sigman, general manager of the Pearl River Water Supply District, of the leaseholder.
Harbor Walk was to cover 110 acres of reservoir property in Ridgeland and to include a luxury hotel, condominiums, office space, restaurants and retail. The design was to be like that of an urban harbor town, according to the website, harborwalkms.com.
The project was to have been built in four phases, with the first phase consisting of 456,000 square feet of retail, office and living space, all facing the water, to be completed by 2007. At least four restaurants were to be included.
“For years, there was big sign that said, ‘Coming soon Hotel Valencia,’” Sigman said. “Finally, when it was apparent (it wasn’t coming), they took it down.”
George Bishop, a Texas billionaire, owns the lease on the property for Harbor Walk and pays more than $600,000 a year in lease fees, Sigman said.
Bishop, a Smith County native, is a 1958 Mississippi State University petroleum geology graduate who in 1981 founded GeoSouthern Energy, which grew to become one of the largest, privately held producers of oil and gas in the country. GeoSouthern sold its south Texas fields to Devon Energy for $6 billion in 2013. He received an honorary degree from MSU in 2019.
With a real time net worth of $2.1 billion as of July 15, Bishop comes in at No. 1,517 on the Forbes 2021 list of the world’s 2,755 billionaires. Jeff Bezos, founder of e-commerce giant Amazon, led the list with a real time net worth of $207.9 billion.
Bishop initially owned the lease with John Burwell, a reservoir resident with whom he became friends as a young roughneck in the oil industry. Burwell died in 2018.
Michael Stuart of JM Stuart and Partners, a manager for Bishop, provides an update about the project every six months or so, Sigman said. “He’s very positive,” he said.
Sigman said the district has received several plans since 2014 that show “a number” of condominium buildings, restaurants and retail.
Stuart told the Northside Sun in 2018 that the development would be first-class and that all options were being explored. He also said at that time that development was shifting to a more residential focus, a restaurant could possibly be included and updating the marina would be a top priority as well.
So far, the only work done has been improvement to the retaining wall along the water around Main Harbor Marina.
“They started work on the bulkhead around Main Harbor and they went ahead and competed It,” Sigman said. “They didn’t do anything else.”
Sigman said the project manager told him construction of buildings would begin this year, but he has been told that several times before and nothing happened.
“This time last year, I was told they would start condominiums,” Signman said. “I’ve heard that same thing for three or four years.
Other big projects such as Renaissance at Colony Park in Ridgeland were able to go from plans to final construction, Sigman said, but Harbor Walk never found its footing.
Financing appeared to be a problem, although Burwell insisted to the media for numerous years that the project was still a go.
Sigman said the site is still ripe for development.
“It’s still a great site,” he said. “It’s very well located in terms of access to water and the transportation network. From time to time a developer will ask about it and we say that the lease is currently held.”
Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee agrees that a mixed-use development like Harbor Walk could be well suited to the reservoir. “I think it would be a positive development if it can be done the right way,” he said.
This fall, about 18,000 cubic yards of soil are expected to be removed and the land restored at the site once occupied by the Dock restored. “They’ll have to dig up the slab at the old Dock restaurant and bar to get to the soil,” Sigman said.
Yazoo clay contained gasoline in the soil and kept it from entering the reservoir, he said.
The Groundwater Protection Trust Fund, established by the state in 1988 to evaluate and clean up environmental problems associated with a motor fuel release from an underground storage tank system, is expected to pick up the $985,000 estimated cost.
The trust fund is derived from a fee on motor fuels dispensed within the state of Mississippi and is collected by the Mississippi Department of Revenue. The monies collected are deposited into an account that is administered by the MDEQ.
The cleanup should get under way this fall and take about four months to complete, Sigman said.
“We’re pretty sure the trust fund will pay 100 percent,” Sigman said. “Our preliminary meetings indicate it is eligible for the trust fund coverage, which is 100 percent.”
Jackie Alexander of Ridgeland, a dental hygienist, has owned a houseboat at Main Harbor since 1999. She would like to see additional development at the reservoir, especially some new restaurants.
“I miss the Dock,” she said. “It was so unique They had good bands and it was so neat you could dock your boat there. I put my houseboat there the last week and spent the whole weekend there.”
Sigman understands the legendary status of the Dock among people who enjoyed it but also views things in a different light.
“The Dock was a source of conflict and traffic accidents, whatever else you want to say,” he said. “Just as many people will say they’re glad it’s gone.”