Development group returns land to city

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 27, 2009

The City of Vicksburg re-inherited a vacant parcel of land Thursday at a special called meeting because after two years plans for retail shops and upscale townhouses at the corner of Washington and Grove streets have been scrapped by local developer WMHS Downtown LLC.

“We’re just not prepared to go forward with it under these economic circumstances,” said WMHS principal Bob Morrison III.

WMHS purchased the lot in April 2006 from the city for  $5,000 as part of the city’s urban renewal program, at the urging of Mayor Laurence Leyens. The company was obligated in the agreement to begin work on the site within six months and spend a minimum of $600,000 within two years.

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Although it spent “several hundred thousand dollars” commissioning architectural designs and doing other planning, WMHS ultimately decided against pursuing the project due to the economy and another project already in the works, Morrison said. WMHS is focusing exclusively on Eastvillage, the 57-acre subdivision in the county under construction at Lee Road and Old Highway 27, he said.

“Our development group was formed to develop the Eastvillage neighborhood, and this downtown opportunity came up in the process of going through all the sites,” he said. “We still think it’s a good project, and we would have been happy to pursue it after the economy had stabilized, but right now we just feel like we need to focus on the Eastvillage project.”

Leyens said another development firm has already expressed interest in developing residential and retail space on the lot, while local merchants have also asked for additional downtown parking space to be created on the land.

“It will become one or the other. The bottom line is we’re kind of back to the drawing board,” he said. “I’m not worried about the property, though. It’s one of our most premium spots and most sought-after pieces of property.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said he would not want to see the land reverted into a parking lot. South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman was absent from the meeting. The property was originally bought by the city as part of its downtown renewal project in 2001. Along with Morrison, WMHS members include his brother, Cooper, Harley Caldwell, Johnny Sanders and John Wheeless.

Also Thursday, the board approved an agreement with May & Company to finish the city’s 2006 audit. Leyens said the three-year-old audit has not been completed because of 110,000 erroneous entries that were discovered in 2007 and have taken the past two years to fix.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Leyens, who did not want to disclose the cost of the error or the name of the former employee who was fired in 2007 for making the mistakes. “It’s not about the time or the cost. It’s just embarrassing.”

The audits for 2007 and 2008 are already completed, said Leyens. However, they cannot be formally approved until the 2006 audit is fully corrected and approved — which he said would take about three months.


Contact Steve Sanoski at