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Jury says city must pay more for property

The building at 1615 Mulberry St. sits across from the front of the Vicksburg Convention Center.(The Vicksburg Post)

[6/30/04]A jury says the City of Vicksburg will have to pay nearly $30,000 more than its offer if it wants to acquire private property in front of the Vicksburg Convention Center.

After two days of testimony in an eminent domain case, the jury returned a unanimous price of $182,000 for 1615 Mulberry St.

The city had offered owner Pete Buford $152,500 for the metal building and 26,136 square feet of land, based on the selling price of other properties in that general area.

Buford’s lawyer, Jerry Campbell, argued that the land was worth more because of its prominent location across from the main entrance to the convention center.

“Given the choice between property two blocks away and property directly across from the convention center, I tell you they’ll choose the property next to the convention center every time,” Campbell said.

Buford had been asking $260,000 for the property.

City Associate Attorney Bobby Robinson offered as comparisons the recent sales of the former Mississippi Lumber Company on Oak Street and property on Levee Street sold to Horizon Casino. The Mississippi Lumber Company property sold to Kansas City Southern Railway for $5.98 per square foot and Horizon purchased land for its expanded parking lot for $6.27 per square foot. The jury-set price to be paid to Buford is $6.96 per square foot.

“The problem that Mr. Buford has is that there’s just not a lot of demand,” for his property, Robinson said. “There’s only one offer.”

City plans for the property across from the convention center are to demolish the building and create a larger parking area.

Now that the jury has set the price, it’s up to city officials to decide whether to pay or back away from the deal. City board members were on the Gulf Coast this week at the Mississippi Municipal Association convention.

In a previous eminent domain case, city officials were told they would have to pay $400,000 for Rocking Horse Motors, 20 N. Washington St., to owner Mike Kavanaugh. The city board backed out of that deal, but had to pay Kavanaugh’s legal expenses.

The city has also started eminent domain proceedings against the owners of the Discount Furniture Barn, 600 Jackson St. No date has been set for that case.

Under the state’s urban renewal law, city governments can declare an urban renewal area and acquire properties for cleanup or for public use without showing in court a public necessity. The city must obtain a valuation from a certified appraiser and have that value reviewed by a second appraiser before making an offer to buy the property at “fair market value.”

If the property owner turns down the offer, the city can take the owner to the county’s special court of eminent domain where a jury sets the value to be paid. Those cases are heard before County Court Judge Johnny Price, who also by law serves as the county’s Youth Court judge.

Once Price rules there’s a public need or use for the private property, jurors hear testimony for the purpose of setting a price for the forced sale.