City rejects proposals for development

By ANTHONY WARREN,

It’s back to the drawing board when it comes to Jackson’s efforts to redevelop vacant property across from the Jackson Convention Center.

City officials have rejected three proposals to develop the site and are planning to again advertise for a master developer.

“The evaluation team thought each proposal had its strengths and weaknesses, but none met the criteria we were looking for,” said Planning and Development Director Mukesh Kumar. “Each had some good points, but this RFP was for a master developer – someone to oversee the entire proposal.

“None of the proposals demonstrated the firms’ abilities to manage the entire project.”

An RFP is a request for proposals. The city issued a request last year to seek a master developer to oversee the implementation of a mixed-use master plan on the roughly 7.75-acre site across from the convention center.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s team was expected to meet this week with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide an update.

Years ago, Jackson used nearly $7 million in HUD loans to purchase the properties across from the convention center, with plans to erect a convention center hotel.

Jackson took out the loans to purchase the land on behalf of a developer, who was expected to pay back the debt from proceeds on a hotel.

However, plans to bring in a hotel never came to fruition.

Former Mayor Frank Melton had entered into 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 the 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 at the site.

That deal also fell through, because the city did not go through the state-mandated bidding process before selecting the firm.

The property today is a hodgepodge of concrete slabs used by patrons of the center.

 

After years of inaction, HUD called the loan in 2017. As part of a repayment agreement, the Lumumba administration 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 to conduct the market study. Among findings, the study determined Jackson needed a convention center hotel but didn’t have the market to support it. To grow the market, Hunden said Jackson needed to increase its residential, retail and restaurant offerings downtown.

In the summer of 2018, those consultants, along with Dale Partners Architects, drew up plans for the acreage based on the market study.

Based on those parameters, the city issued a request for proposals to hire a master developer. RFPs were opened in November.

According to a copy of the RFP, the applicant chosen would oversee a development that would 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.

“We were effectively looking for a developer who can assemble a team of developers who can develop specific components,” Kumar said. “That’s the portion of the RFPs that the evaluation team thought was not represented in the proposals.”

Kumar said the city’s next move will be directed by HUD.

He hopes to open up the bid process again by the end of February and conduct a nationwide search for a new firm.

 

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