The developer of a proposed public-private economic partnership that would include a grocery store, 50-home subdivision, hotel, convention center, athletic fields and water park being built in Clarksdale unveiled a new proposal Tuesday to recoup investors’ costs.
At the same time, developer Dwan “Dee” Brown criticized recent coverage by some media outlets and questioned why some would want to “seek and destroy” a project that would bring much-needed jobs and money to Clarksdale and Coahoma County.
In the end, Brown told those gathered at Tuesday afternoon’s Quality of Life Committee meeting at the Clarksdale City Hall that he has faith in the project and expects it to become reality.
“I think every element in the project, and the way we have it put together, is going to go,” Brown said.
Last March, Brown and city officials unveiled the Corey L. Moore Sports and Recreation Complex. Over the past 12 months, the project has changed names and scope as it’s now known as the Corey L. Moore Town Center and Sportsplex and will include two new additions – a Blues City Piggly Wiggly and a 50-home residential subdivision – on its 108 acres located off Desoto Avenue near its intersection with the Highway 61 bypass.
As it currently stands, the plan is for the city to fund the building of infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, water and sewer lines) with money from the sale of urban renewal bonds. That cost could range anywhere from $5 million to $10 million.
However, during Tuesday’s meeting, Brown proposed that he and other investors be paid back through monies (such as sales taxes and real estate and property taxes) that would be generated by the project once it its complete and operating.
“Since we have to front the money for the infrastructure anyway, rather than the city or agency issuing bonds for the infrastructure, we’ll just do a lease purchase on the infrastructure, such to the availability of funds,” he said. “If the funds are available, they may a lease payment. If the funds are not available, they don’t have a payment to make.”
Brown proposed that the payments would be made over a certain amount of time, which is yet to be determined.
City Attorney Melvin Miller emphasized that Brown’s proposal is just one of several options “floating around” and neither option has “won out just yet.” He said the “legal ramifications” of each option are still being worked out and he was unsure whether the final decision would rest with the Clarksdale board of commissioners or Quality of Life Commission.
“The project basically creates its own reimbursement,” Miller said. “The city loses nothing.”
Brown said that’s true.
“The city does not pay me,” Brown said. “If this project fails, it’s totally on my dime.”
Brown, who said he has been working on the project since October 2017, said he has received no compensation from the city.
“I have not come to the city of Clarksdale, on anything I’ve done, and asked for one dollar,” Brown said. “I don’t have any intention on coming to the city of Clarksdale and asking the city for anything. That’s not what I’m here for.
“I’m not hard up for work. I’m not looking for something to do. I’m not here looking for a money grab. I’m not here to try and win a popularity contest.”
While declining to name specific media outlets, Brown said “untrue stories” had recently been circulated that “cast doubt” about the Piggy Wiggly being built in Clarksdale, “insinuated that no work was being done” and made other false claims.
“It is actually an insult to everyone that’s made this investment to try to move this project forward, to write a story that has no basis in truth,” Brown said. “Writing these stories is not just undermining this agency, it’s not just undermining me…. at the end the day, it’s undermining the community.”
With that in mind, Brown opened up his presentation at Tuesday’s Quality of Life meeting by asking the media present – which included the publisher of The Clarksdale Press Register and Paul Wilson, the owner of local radio station WROX – if they had any questions. They were the only people in the audience.
After being asked on the status of the grocery store, Brown spent the next 20 minutes updating those present on the various projects his company, the P3 Development Group, is involved with here in Clarksdale. He would then spend 50 minutes in a question-and-answer session with the two media members.
Architectural plans for the Piggly Wiggly have been presented and Brown said a Thursday meeting will be devoted to tweaking the plans to allow for freezers.
He said the hope is to begin to start infrastructure and site work in July and anticipates it would be perhaps a year before the vertical work of building Piggly Wiggly would begin. Earlier reports estimated a construction period of 12 months meaning the new grocery store could be open by the summer of 2021.
Brown said a local developer has expressed interest in buying the 50 residential lots in the subdivision, which would be called the Lake Estates at Town Center. It would feature homes ranging in size from 1,400 to 1,800 square feet and range in price from $150,000 to the low $200,000s.
The new community will be part of the development that also consists of a 100-room GLo Best Western hotel and conference center, a 5-acre water park, the 28,000-square-foot grocery store and fuel center, five synthetic turf youth baseball/softball fields and a small solar farm.
“I’m not understanding the concept of ‘nothing’s happening,’” Brown said.
He said more than 40 people from across the country are assigned to the project and have been working every day. Brown said he and his partners have spent in excess of $1.8 million “just on engineering and architectural services.”
Brown said, “Contrary to popular belief, architects are not out there developing these plans for free. These are hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop plans on just the grocery store. We’re talking millions of dollars on plans for the whole complex.”
He said a geotechnical survey of the site was $100,000. That survey revealed some troubling news as the geotech engineer required that four feet of dirt be removed and then replaced by six feet of different dirt. That change raised the estimated cost of the site work to $10 million, nearly double the $6 million that had been budgeted.
“We had to go back to the drawing board and look at some valued engineering options,” Brown said, noting those options were needed to keep the project under budget.
Brown said the city will not be buying the 108-acre property on which the project would sit. He said the Quality of Life Commission cancelled the contract when the option to purchase expired Feb. 28, 2019.
Brown said a group of private investors are now finalizing the purchase of the land. He said engineers are now developing “legal descriptions” not only for the original piece of property, but an additional 30-acre site they are adding.
“There’s no issue there, but it was reported that the option expired months ago. And that’s just not the case,” Brown said. “We already have the contract drafted. We’re just waiting on the legal descriptions.”
He said the Clarksdale Planning Commission has approved the rezoning of the tract on which the subdivision would sit. And he said they’ll soon go before the planning board to get final approval of the plat for the entire project.