No mystery in Outlets of Mississippi tax rebate plan

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Clay Chandler | The Clarion-Ledger | 9:33 p.m. CST November 7, 2015

Developers of the Outlets of Mississippi applied to the Mississippi Development Authority in July 2013 for a new program that would offer sales tax rebates if the project met certain criteria.

Namely, it had to be considered a “cultural retail attraction,” meaning there had to be a tourism bent to the development.

It’s the same tax rebate program Andrew Mattiace wants for his planned expansion of the Renaissance at Colony Park in Ridgeland. But unlike Outlets’ developers, Mattiace is trying to block release of that information.

At the Outlets, the requirement to be a cultural retail attraction is fulfilled primarily by a satellite office of the MDA that distributes materials promoting the state’s tourism spots and supplanted by a mall-wide system that plays music by Mississippi artists.

It’s a pretty straight-forward mandate, though the legislation that created the rebate program in 2013 caused a lot of debate about the merit of granting sales tax rebates to what amounted to large strip malls.

The application Spectrum Bloomfield, a subsidiary of Spectrum Capital, made was straight-forward, too: It listed the amount of private investment ($80 million, well above the $50 million threshold the program required), and calculated the amount of sales tax rebates for which developers believed they qualified ($24 million, a little below the maximum 30 percent of capital investment the program allowed).

Three months later, on Oct. 21, 2013, the MDA certified the project, unlocking the sales tax rebates. A month after that, the Outlets opened for business.

All of that information — from initial application to final certification — was obtained by The Clarion-Ledger via an open records request with the MDA.

Spectrum’s application is 17 pages. In a cover letter that accompanied the documents, MDA spokesman Jeff Rent said an additional 26 pages “may contain proprietary, confidential commercial or financial information or trade secrets of a third party.”

The Clarion-Ledger, in its requests for Spectrum’s application, did not seek anything proprietary.

The Clarion-Ledger, in late summer, asked for a similar application made by Mattiace, who developed the Renaissance.

It received a copy of Mattiace’s application from the MDA, and it was nearly identical to Spectrum’s. It included the amount of private investment Mattiace would make ($98 million) and the amount of rebates for which he was applying ($29 million). The MDA certified Renaissance’s expansion as eligible for the program in June 2014.

What it did not include that Spectrum’s did was financial projections — like estimated taxable revenue the project would generate, annual payroll and estimated occupancy rates. The Clarion-Ledger tried to get that information with another public records request. Mattiace sought a protective order that was eventually granted by Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary.

In asking Singletary to seal the records, Mark Garriga, an attorney representing Mattiace, said they contained trade secrets and confidential information about a potential economic development prospect.

The Clarion-Ledger asked Singletary to lift the order, citing the state’s public records laws. A trial on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 1.

To read more: http://www.clarionledger.com/story/business/2015/11/07/no-mystery-outlets-mississippi-tax-rebate-plan/75107564/

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