City, owner in court over property value

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Warren County Judge Johnny Price holds a tape recorder as Mike Kavanaugh, second from left, answers questions from his attorney, Jerry Campbell, Monday as Kavanaugh’s eminant domain trial was moved temporarily from the Warren County Courthouse to Rocking Horse Motors at 20 N. Washington Street.(Melanie Ducna Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[12/2/03]Jurors were loaded up and taken Monday to one piece of property the City of Vicksburg wants to buy under its continuing plans for a downtown makeover.

“I think it adds a lot to the proceedings when you can see the property being condemned,” said Warren County Judge Johnny Price.

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Jurors in the eminent domain case are to set a price the city will have to pay for Rocking Horse Motors, 20 N. Washington St.

The offer was $214,500 for the property at Washington’s intersection with First East, but owner Mike Kavanaugh says that’s not enough.

During the testimony of consultant Jimmy Gouras, whose firm drew up the urban renewal plan, jurors were taken to the used car dealership on the site and were shown the junked cars, broken doors and windows, and an empty building that city officials say contribute to the slum and blight at the north entrance into downtown.

Usually the first step in any eminent domain case is for the plaintiff to show the judge a public need and public use for property, but in this case, both sides stipulated that point.

During his opening statements, City Associate Attorney Bobby Robinson said the property had been appraised, and a review appraisal agreed with the amount offered for the property.

Jerry Campbell, attorney for Kavanaugh, said that sales at the dealership exceeded $1 million annually because of the property’s location, and the location added to the value of the land. He said there are a total of 80,000 square feet of property in the Rocking Horse lot, and the city was offering less than $3 per square foot.

“We’re not contesting the city’s urban renewal project and that this property is being taken,” Campbell said. “But when you plan to change the face of Vicksburg you have to compensate the landowners.”

The trial was expected to resume this morning with the testimony of Wayne Thornton, the appraiser who determined the property value.

The proceedings are also being followed closely by the owners of the Discount Furniture Barn, 600 Jackson St., who are scheduled to be in court with the city next week.

The city had offered owners Henry Heggins and T.D. Easterling $125,000 for the property, but they have said the building is worth much more.

The municipal plan for the area includes river and rail museums, a downtown park and other displays.

Completed or nearly completed is a rebricking of Washington Street’s busiest blocks with new lighting and landscaping. The city, using money from a November 2001 bond issue, has also bought other buildings with plans to resell to new owners.