Developer Ergon buying Halls Ferry school

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 25, 2002

[02/22/02]Ergon Properties won the bid to purchase the Halls Ferry school building Thursday night, offering $451,599 and making public months of closed dealings with trustees of the Vicksburg Warren School District.

Jim Defoe, vice president of the company, said Ergon wants to build a new entrance to the City of Vicksburg’s recreation area east of the school, and, separately, Home Depot executives said they had received permission to put a store in Vicksburg now most likely on a site including the Halls Ferry property.

“We’ve just got approval for a store in Vicksburg,” said Mandy Holton, a public affairs official with Home Depot. “We can confirm that.”

Also up for bids Thursday night was Culkin Elementary. Four offers were received, but after a closed session it was reported all were rejected as too low. Votes of school board members were not revealed.

Ergon, based in Jackson, is best known for its oil- and paving-related business, including operations in Vicksburg. A division of the company, however, has real estate ventures, including commercial and mixed-use properties.

Defoe said plans for the site are tentative. “We are working on a deal,” he said. Ergon has done development for Home Depot in the past, he said.

A site plan, which school board members met and viewed privately last year, shows many acres now in residential and commercial use all around the school building, converted to parking lots with a giant store near the center.

The nearest Home Depot, a discount retailer of hardware, remodeling, gardening and other tools, appliances, equipment and materials, is in Clinton.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said today he and city officials had also talked privately with Ergon about allowing them to restructure the park entrance, which is on city land. “We haven’t made any commitments,” Leyens said. Earlier, he also said city participation in financing the work had been discussed. There is also a possibility that part of the park, which contains ball fields and tennis courts, will be used for the commercial project with the developers providing other land as a substitute.

“We are looking at rebuilding the park entrance,” Defoe said.

Ergon has already acquired most of the land bordering the Halls Ferry site. “We’ve gotten under option pretty much all the property around there,” Defoe said.

Defoe said Ergon would be conducting a traffic study and looking at installing a traffic light and making other improvements.

“We feel very good about it,” he said. “I think the people of Vicksburg will be happy about it.”

Living Word Baptist Church was the only other bidder. It offered $400,000, but did not provide a bid deposit, which would have disqualified their offer even if it had been higher than Ergon’s.

Halls Ferry, built in 1952, was one of five elementaries closed when two new complexes, Dana Road and Sherman Avenue, opened in the fall of 1999. It occupies one corner of the Pemberton-Halls Ferry interchange, the city’s busiest intersection. Although no appraisal was done, there were indications that without the building, which contains asbestos, the site would be worth much more.

“There’s never going to be enough money that’s an extremely valuable property,” said Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Donald Oakes. “The drawback is the building itself.”

School board members left without comment after a lengthy closed session, and Oakes said the board felt the money offered for Culkin was not enough.

Offers were:

James D. Hobson Jr., $57,755.

Living Word Baptist Church bid $50,000, but did not provide a bid deposit.

Jamie Jabour, $32,500.

Abundant Life Worship, $15,500.

Culkin, built as a high school in the 1930s, is at the intersection of Culkin and Mount Alban roads. Some of its contents, including air conditioners, have been sold, but the property itself will apparently remain on the market.

There is also a large county-owned recreation area near the school.

Home Depot operates 1,332 stores internationally, including over 1,200 in the United States. The Alanta-based company was founded in 1978.

Holton said a typical Home Depot store employs 100 people.

Other sites have been discussed for major retail development in Vicksburg, including the site of the former Battlefield Mall and a tract on U.S. 61 North. Other stores said to be in the mix are Target, a discount retailer of clothing and housewares, and Lowe’s, which is similar to The Home Depot.