Antar Lumumba: Costco Detractors 'Holding the City Hostage' | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Antar Lumumba: Costco Detractors 'Holding the City Hostage'

Former Mayor Chokwe Lumumba quietly worked with Costco to agree on its proposed location on Lakeland Drive.

Former Mayor Chokwe Lumumba quietly worked with Costco to agree on its proposed location on Lakeland Drive. Photo by Trip Burns.

The day former Mayor Chokwe Lumumba died in February, he had a meeting scheduled with Costco to discuss development of the big-box retailer in Jackson. While in the hospital, the mayor worried about missing the meeting because he knew how important it would be to bring the top retailer to his city, his son told the Jackson Free Press today.

Mayor Tony Yarber is working towards bringing a Costco to Lakeland Drive—the same location former Mayor Lumumba had discussed but never made public. Antar Lumumba is in full support of a plan to bring Costco to Jackson, just as his father had planned.

Although Jackson's Planning Board voted yesterday against rezoning the area to allow for development of a Costco, Yarber pledged to continue the fight to get a Costco near the intersection of Lakeland Drive and Interstate 55, despite some opposition of community members and directors of nearby museums.

Antar Lumumba, whose father was the first from Jackson to make contact with Costco, told the JFP that Costco has chosen the location on Lakeland Drive after researching the traffic of the area and calculating the profits it would bring.

"If they're going to be in Jackson, that's where they demand to be," Lumumba said today.

Those who are not willing to make changes to the Lakeland Drive site in order to obtain a Costco are, Lumumba said, "holding the city hostage." Lumumba ran against Yarber to fill his late father's mayoral seat earlier this year.

Fondren resident Jo G Prichard hopes the city will find a way to meet the needs of the area, keep green space and bring Costco to Jackson simultaneously. He said it would be a hard decision to bring Costco to Lakeland Drive if the city planned to wipe out the entire character of the area, but a compromise to put it there would create a "win, win" situation.

"Jacksonians need to take every reasonable and even a few difficult steps to land Costco and give our city a major shopping and sales tax plus," Prichard said.

Prichard said the sales-tax boost that the big-box store would provide to Jackson, considering that many retailers in the area are outside city limits, is reason alone to make a place for Costco here.

The Jackson City Planning Board voted against the city's comprehensive zoning proposal for 50 acres of land surrounding Lakeland Drive at the Interstate 55 intersection on August 27. The proposal would have changed the land from special-use zoning to either community mixed use or C-3 commercial-use zoning.

The city proposed the rezoning after Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco took interest in building on Lakeland Drive, and the city wanted the retailer on that land.

Community members, led by attorney Thomas Starling, voiced concerns over commercialization of the area, which is now used by the city for parks and museums. Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum director, and Susan Gerrard, Mississippi Children's Museum director, both spoke on behalf of the LeFleur Museum District, a partnership between four museums established this year. Both expressed concerns about how rezoning the area for commercial purposes would affect the new district.

A major topic of discussion during the meeting surrounded the letter from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, which stated that a change in use of the land, which was deeded to the city specifically for parks more than 50 years ago, would trigger a reversion provision, allowing the state to take back control of the land.

Board member Jim McCraw asked, "Can we rezone someone else's property?" Zoning administrator Ester Aisworth responded that the city is allowed to rezone the area in the case of a comprehensive zoning, like the one they proposed.

Ainsworth clarified that the reversion does not apply to rezoning but to use, and that the board was only voting on August 27 to determine the zoning classification of the land. The city reassured the board that community mixed-use zoning and C-3 zoning both still allow for parks in their classification.

That prompted Starling to ask, "Why wouldn't we leave it the way it is?"

In a written response to the decision, Mayor Tony Yarber said he will continue to fight to make necessary changes to the land in order to obtain a Costco for the city.

"The City of Jackson is not deterred by the action of the Jackson Planning Board. The responsibility of the Planning Board members is to consider what was before them, which was rezoning. However, use was made the issue, and that was inappropriate. The request for rezoning would have allowed for the progressive movement of the City of Jackson for the betterment of our city and its citizens, while preserving quality of life," Yarber wrote in the statement.

Opponents argued that rezoning the area for commercial use could prompt the city to commercialize the area, which could trigger the reversion.

The mayor also said that the state's position on the Lakeland Drive land is incorrect.

"The secretary of state is mistaken in his assertion, as the 313 acres was parceled off many years ago, with specific parcels being deeded to the state of Mississippi for non-park purposes. Therefore, it is the City's position that the issue of the reverter may have been waived and is now moot," Yarber wrote.

Board member Samuel Mitchell motioned to rezone the area from special-use zoning to community mixed-use zoning, which is a lower-intensity classification that allows for less intrusive uses of the land than C-3, but only one other board member, Bennie Richard, voted with him. The vote was 3-6 with one abstention from the 15-member board. Only 10 members were present.

Approximately 59,000 vehicles travel through the Lakeland Drive and Interstate 55 intersection each day, and the addition of a big-box retailer could increase the congestion along the thoroughfare. But it is precisely the Lakeland Drive traffic that makes it a desired location for Costco, which plans to build its first store in Mississippi.

Initially, Costco, one of the top three largest retailers in the nation, reportedly showed interest in three potential locations on Lakeland Drive—one in Jackson and two in Flowood. However, the big-box retailer is unlikely to choose to develop on either of the Flowood sites because Rankin is a dry county. Liquor is a crucial source of revenue for Costco. A Jackson location also means that the city would benefit from its sales-tax collections, which some see as a boon after Sam's Club's decision to move to Madison.

In the world of big-box retailers, Costco is considered the best when it comes to employment treatment and satisfaction. The jobs site Glassdoor conducted an employee survey this summer that, as reported by The Huffington Post, ranked Costco only slightly behind Google for companies with best employee compensation and benefits. CEO and President Craig Jelinek is publicly in favor of a national minimum wage of $10.10 and said in 2013 that Costco has a "starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business."

Glassdoor reported that Costco cashiers makes $15.20 an hour on average, while they average $9.37 an hour at Sam's Club and $8.18 an hour at Target. And about 88 percent of Costco employees have company-sponsored health insurance.

In an interview last week, Mayor Tony Yarber made it clear that he wants the Costco on that site and that developers had found a way to build Costco without tearing down Smith-Wills Stadium.

The Costco would replace the nearby baseball field, which Yarber said is inadequate and lacking resources. Murrah High School currently uses the field.

Yarber said then that he is doing everything he can to make sure "Jackson gets what it deserves, and in this case, that's a Costco."

Clarification: We have edited the story to reflect that Antar Lumumba has not seen the mayor's current Costco plan, so he could not express support of it specifically, but he does support Costco locating on Lakeland Drive.

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