By Steve Wilson / January 22, 2016 / www.MississippiWatchdog.com
Like a zombie, the “cultural retail attraction” sales tax rebate program keeps rising from the grave.
A development deal for a potential shopping center on land owned by the city of Jackson at the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport will be partially funded by state taxpayers under a program that expired in 2014.
The state approved the developer, Slidell, La.-based Freedom Real Estate LLC, to receive the sales tax rebate in 2014 just before the deadline for applications expired. The maximum rebate that could be awarded to Freedom’s Pinelands Lifestyle Center is more than $48 million, according to data provided by the Mississippi Development Authority.
Under the “cultural retail attraction” program, Mississippi returns 80 percent of the sales tax revenue to the developer until the total reaches 30 percent of construction costs. Each “attraction” has to offer either $1 million worth of Mississippi art, historic markers or audio-visual equipment or host space for the MDA for 10 years for tourism promotion purposes. If all of the five projects authorized by the MDA under the program collect their maximum subsidies, state taxpayers could pay more than $230 million.
The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners voted to approve a deal with Freedom Real Estate LLC in December to lease the land, located north of the airport in the city of Flowood. Freedom would lease the land from the JMAA for 40 years for an amount determined by a property value appraisal that will take place after the contract is exercised.
Freedom Real Estate owner Ronald Harvey didn’t return calls seeking comment.
The Mississippi Legislature passed Senate Bill 2463 in 2013, expanding the sales tax rebate program to include “cultural retail attractions.” Abill to reauthorize the program died in the 2014 legislative session.
Pinelands Lifestyle Center is just one of several shopping centers chomping for taxpayer dollars.
Developer Andrew Mattiace could receive more than $29 million to help build the Phase III of the Renaissance at Colony Park, which would include a Costco. According to the Northside Sun, Mattiace has a deadline of June 10 to begin construction on the project, unless an extension is granted by the MDA.
The development has been controversial, with some Ridgeland citizens filing suit against the city for the alteration of the property zoning. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger settled a lawsuit it filed against Mattiace after he had the records governing his application for the rebate sealed.
In Southaven near the Tennessee state line, the ADA approved developer Poag & McEwen for up to $34 million for the Outlet Shops of the Mid-South, which opened in November.
Spectrum Capital was approved to receive more than $23 million for its $80 millionOutlets of Mississippi, which opened last year in Pearl. Spectrum also asked in its application for loan guarantees from the Mississippi Business Finance Corporation — a government-owned nonprofit designed to help finance economic development projects — for up to $80 million.
The largest development is proposed for D’Iberville, just north of Biloxi on Interstate 10. The Gulf Coast Galleria, developed by Ramco Developments, could receive a maximum rebate of $96.3 million for the projected cost of more than $350 million for the Galleria, according to the Biloxi Sun-Herald. Construction on the outdoor mall, hotel and a nearby BMW auto dealership started in December.