Tucked into Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr.'s July 7 State of the City address was the news that a 26.7-acre housing development previously held up by a lawsuit is now back on track. Johnson's speech highlighted a number of well-known economic-development projects in varying states of completion, but it also indicated that the Agape housing project in northwest Jackson has cleared a major obstacle.
"In the coming year, important housing projects, such as the Agape project will be coming online," Johnson said. "This multi-million dollar, 26.7-acre project just off Magnolia Road will contain commercial development and a mix of affordable and market-rate housing that will transform the area. We're excited to see it come down the pipeline."
What Johnson left out was that the project was the subject of a 2009 lawsuit filed by Jackson businessman Socrates Garrett and Full Spectrum, the New York-based firm handling the Old Capitol Green development in downtown Jackson. Garrett and Full Spectrum, as Mississippi Housing Solutions, submitted a joint bid to the Jackson Housing Authority that JHA accepted in January 2009. Three months later, however, the Housing Authority rescinded its decision, and on July 29 it moved to start seeking other proposals. Mississippi Housing Solutions filed suit in Hinds County Chancery Court and, in August, won a temporary restraining order to stop JHA from soliciting new bids.
At that time, Garrett told the Jackson Free Press that the JHA withdrew its support for his proposal when he indicated he would not automatically accept the authority's picks for a bond attorney and architect.
"The breakdown occurred when the Housing Authority attorneys Jerry Johnson realized that he was not automatically going to be used to syndicate the bonds for the deal, and that architect Roy Decker was not automatically going to be selected to be the architect on this project," Garrett said. "When they realized those two positions were not an absolute, then we suddenly didn't have a shared vision anymore, according to them. Apparently their vision involved using their attorney and architect without a competitive process, and our vision didn't agree with that."
JHA has since reopened the project for bidding. Housing Authority Executive Director Sheila Jackson said that she expects to finalize a contract with a private developer "in a few weeks."
The project's next step will be a comprehensive market-feasibility study of the area around Magnolia Road and Clinton Boulevard, where the property is located, and the nearby Queens neighborhood.
"I might think in my head, 'We need to put so many units out there,' but if the market's not driving it, if there's no need for what we've proposed, then it's going to flop," Jackson said. "We won't be able to rent them, we won't be able to sell them."
Jackson said that the development's eventual design depends on the market study's findings. Right now, the JHA has only a rough sketch of its plans: the project will be mixed-income and mixed-use, with residential and commercial components. The development will also draw on a variety of funding sources, including federal dollars held by the Housing Authority, private funds from the developers and tax credits, Jackson said.
"We're going to put a lot of different funding resources in to this one project," Jackson said. "In this economy, it's hard for any one grant or one organization to fund a huge development project."
The property can accommodate between 150 and 200 houses, Jackson said, but whether the community needs or wants that remains to be seen. After the market study, the project will move into a master-planning phase, during which the developers will evaluate the area's commercial and residential needs, land-use, zoning and environmental issues.
Jackson estimates that some portions of the feasibility study should be complete by the end of September 2010, while the full planning phase will take a year before the Housing Authority can bring money and design together to begin construction.
"We'll be designing (it) once we do our homework," Jackson said. "It's a beautiful piece of property, and we know that there's a need in the area. But for me to just know that is not enough."
I mis-read the title at first. I though it said "Mayor hypes 'retarded' housing project. I thought JFP had lost it and become a tool for the extreme right wing.
Not today, dd. Not today.
Hopefully not tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Heck, how about never!
- golden eagle