/Clarksdale moves forward with $50 million sports recreation project

Clarksdale moves forward with $50 million sports recreation project

Eight months into his term, Mayor Espy has declared that his vision is no longer a dream. It’s now a reality. Espy stated that although he doesn’t like to talk about elections as an individual in office, there were many people who believed that I was just dreaming. Espy stated that a comprehensive plan was put together, which took more than two years. Espy said that the comprehensive plan took more than two years to put together. “People from California and New York participated in this project as well as people from Mississippi and Tennessee.” Monday’s unanimous vote by the Board of Mayors and Commissioners to establish an urban renewal agency which will oversee the $50 million-dollar sports and recreational complex. Dwan Brown from P3 Group Inc., an advisory firm for development, said that he has worked hard over the past eight months to create a plan that would allow Clarksdale to build a world-class sports and recreational complex. According to Brown, the project will include a 120-room hotel and a conference centre, as well as a water park, zipline and rock climbing wall, five artificial turf softball and baseball fields, and a small, two megawatt solar farm. Brown said that the complex will be named the Corey L. Moore Sports and Recreation Complex in memory of Corey Lenard Moore who was a Clarksdale resident and worked under Rep. Bennie Thomson as an intern on Congress’ Homeland Security Committee. The Sunbelt Industrial Park is located behind the Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce. The Economic Development Authority owns the industrial park. Brown stated that the cost of the project would be funded with non-recourse urban renewal bonds and other subsidies in renewable energie tax credits and grants. The operation will be managed by an at-risk private operator. Brown stated that the project would bring $70 million into the local economy and will employ 875 people during construction. It will also create 190 part-time and permanent jobs. Viewers were able to ask more questions regarding the funding of the project via the Mayor’s live Facebook feed. Brown stated that the construction costs of $50 million and ongoing operating costs will be subsidised based on existing programs. Brown clarified by saying that “a private investment company will execute a 30-year lease, and assume full responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the project.” Brown stated that the urban renewal agency will lease the project to a private investor group. Brown explained that equity will be used to pay a portion the $50 million project development cost. A solar farm will offset electricity costs while reimbursements from the state will cover operational costs. Many voters opposed the idea of a center like this in the city, citing the high costs. Brown assured that the project would not be costly to the city or citizens because it is a public/private partnership. This partnership includes Hunt Company, CORE Construction and Chasm Companies. Each entity represented itself at the meeting. Brown requested that the board reject the “failed policies of the past” and “vote today to take the first steps forward to restoring the hope to this community.” He asked for the creation of an urban renewal agency called the Quality of Life Commission, to oversee the development. The project will be overseen by the agency with five members who were appointed by the commissioners. According to Mississippi law, each board member will serve a term of five years without being paid for their services. Anybody can be elected as long as they live in the region. Espy told Mississippi Today that the agency must be established in order for the project to move forward. Next, Espy will submit documentation for urban renewal tax credits. Commissioner Willie Turner appointed Adrian Allen, and Espy appointed Rosalyn Griff. Three other commissioners stated that they needed more time. Brown stated that “for those who want an explanation of what this is and how it looks, we will ask the board to establish an agency, an Urban Renewal Agency which is done throughout Mississippi – Jackson Ocean Springs, Biloxi. Pascagoula. Most people are familiar with JRA which is a regional authority which Jackson’s urban renewal agent. Brown stated that the agency is authorized to issue urban renewal bonds. The bonds don’t create any debt obligation nor any recourse by the municipality. To get the project moving, Brown indicated that the at-risk private operator will cover all costs. He stated that the city has no role in this process and that any costs incurred for the project will be covered by the at-risk operator. “We are well aware of what has happened in this city over the past three decades, using outdated processes and techniques. Brown stated that we can run the city for as long as we want, but it won’t help us get anywhere. “We can look around the country and see how urban renewal agencies are being used to rebuild communities. After all, that’s the reason the statutory authority was granted to municipalities. All commissioners unanimously supported the project. It took more than just a skip to get others onboard. Mac Crank of the mayor’s official stated that this is a complex and convoluted financing and development system. “Today, Mr. Brown brought these people to the table. He is now ready to make this a reality. It looks like a great project, and it doesn’t obligate the city. Crank stated that it is creating a new authority to actually lead the program. Jon Levingston is the executive director of Clarksdale/Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce. He said that at first he was skeptical about this venture. Brown called him out of the blue to inquire about the Sunbelt Industrial Park, and he said that he was interested in purchasing the property. Levingston asked Brown whether he would like to build a factory in the area. He replied with “something equally as good,” Levingston said. Brown continued to discuss the plans for the complex and Levingston asked if such a project was feasible for Clarksdale. Brown replied with a resounding yes. Levingston was skeptical about the idea of putting together a team, and not wanting the city participating. He also feared that the use of “private equity” would be a red flag. However, after speaking with the group, he felt more comfortable. Levingston stated that he was skeptical about the idea and hadn’t seen any evidence until he came to visit and they had a conference call where he spoke with people from all over the country. “I was amazed at the team that Mr. (Dwan Brown) and his colleagues put together to take the concept to a plan that is close to reality. Commissioner Bo Plunk stressed that multiple lawyers have been consulted and that this project will not cost the municipality a penny. Commissioner Ken Murphey agreed with the statement: “We have been pretty stagnant here since a while…I’ve done my research and it’s no cost to the city any money.” … This is what our children deserve, and I support it guys 100 percent.” Commissioner Ed Seals stated that this was a win-win scenario for everyone and as my colleagues said, it won’t cost Clarksdale taxpayers a penny. “I would like the mayor to commend Mr. (Dwan), Brown for their leadership.” “Regardless what some folks think about Mr. (Dwan), Brown or Mr. Espy (pardon my French), they have worked their arse off for this city. Plunk said that they have. “I have served under two mayors. Chuck is the third. In nine years, he’s been the first to have vision.”