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City extends deadline for Carr building

[02/06/01] The man seeking to renovate the Carr school building for housing was granted an extension by a 2-1 vote of the Board of the Mayor and Aldermen Monday.

Robert Rosenthal’s project was denied tax credits by the Mississippi Home Corporation, an agency responsible for encouraging the development of affordable housing, on appeal in February 2000, but the MHC said Rosenthal can apply again this month.

Because another decision will not be released until June or July, city officials said they will give Rosenthal until then to fulfill his contractual obligations.

If Rosenthal’s new request for tax credits is denied, the city will buy back the property, said Mayor Robert Walker, adding it is only fair to give Rosenthal another chance.

“My position is that we were working with Rosenthal,” Walker said. “We have to be ethical in our dealings. It would only be right to give him another chance.”

Rosenthal bought the former school on Cherry Street for $55,000 in 1999 and said he would turn it into an assisted-living complex for the elderly. The contract required that financing be in place and asbestos removal be completed by Sept. 15, 2000. The contract said the city would buy back the building for $45,000 if the deadlines were not met, essentially imposing a $10,000 penalty.

“We’re going to give Rosenthal a last chance to appeal,” Walker said. “If the decision is not favorable, then the city can buy it back.”

Carr operated as a junior high, high school and middle school during about 50 years of use. The city got the deed to the building and land more than 20 years ago after it was abandoned by the public school system. It avoided demolition as protected state historical property.

The MHC, now containing members appointed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, held its state convention in Vicksburg in January.

Walker said that since Rosenthal approached the city to buy the building and that interest in the building from other buyers had waned, that it wouldn’t be fair to not work with him now.

South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, who voted against an extension, said he feels Rosenthal has had enough chances.

“He’s failed to meet the conditions,” Habeeb said. “He promised if they didn’t get the tax credits, they had the financing to forge ahead with the project. The city’s been pushed around enough.”

In an agreement between city officials and Rosenthal, the extension is based on the decision of the Mississippi Home Corp. and that a failure to submit the application, or a denial of tax credits will result in the loss of the building. It also requires Vicksburg Senior Associates, identified as an entity involved in the project, to conduct regular weekly maintenance of the property.

Alderman Gertrude Young said she believes Rosenthal’s chances of getting tax credits this time around are good.

“The underlying problem is that all the tax-credit projects were in North Mississippi,” Young said. “The districts that were ignored complained, and they support Rosenthal, so it is more feasible that he could get a tax credit this time.”

Walker said the city is waiting on the final word from the Mississippi Home Corp. and if the building is taken back, city officials would be just as willing to help out the next bidder.

Habeeb said he respects the board’s decision, but that Rosenthal made promises to meet the deadlines regardless of tax credits and didn’t keep his word.

“Their promises keep changing,” said Habeeb. “What’s the value of a contract if no one sticks to their obligations?”