Mayor Tony Yarber simultaneously caused excitement about jobs in Jackson and consternation from some who question its location when he made public plans for the big-box retailer to locate on Lakeland Avenue near Interstate 55.
Yarber is currently working to bring to fruition a vision of former Mayor Lumumba, who did not go public with the plans before his sudden death in February. The day Chokwe Lumumba died, he had a meeting scheduled with Costco to discuss development plans. While in the hospital, Lumumba 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 last week.
"If they're going to be in Jackson, that's where they demand to be," said Antar Lumumba, a local lawyer who unsuccessfully ran against Yarber to replace his father earlier this year.
Costco chose the site after researching the traffic of the area and calculating the profits it would bring. The big-box store had shown interest in two other Flowood locations on Lakeland Drive—both in Rankin County, which is largely dry. Costco is reserved about the Flowood locations for that reason, but Jackson leaders worry that if Flowood can accommodate Costco's requirements while Jackson refuses, it could be an economic blow to the city.
"If we find that Rankin County is willing to make concessions in its laws for Costco to come, then I think we've made an egregious error if we're not willing to do much less in order to get Costco here," Antar Lumumba said.
Concerns About Rezoning
Some community members have been vocal with their concern that the character of the green space north of Lakeland Drive and the surrounding LeFleur Museum District could be damaged if Costco builds in that area, even if most seem to like the idea that Costco locate inside the city limits.
In an interview, Yarber confirmed that Costco would likely replace the Michael B. Johnson Memorial Park, a baseball park. Currently, he said there are no plans to tear down the 40-year-old Smith-Wills Stadium, but it could happen in the future.
"While we're saying we're not tearing it down now, at some point if we or the management there can't find a way to better impact the bottom line, it may be something that the city can't continue to maintain anyway," Yarber told the Jackson Free Press.
Opponents seem most concerned about the rezoning it would take to either allow the Costco or other commercialization of the area. Rick Cleveland, director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, said rezoning could harm one of Jackson's richest travel and tourist districts—one that that city, state and private entities have invested millions of dollars to maintain as a cultural attraction.
"Every great city has green space," said Cleveland, whose museum would be directly next to Costco on the proposed site.
Many residents are also concerned about even more traffic congestion on Lakeland Drive. 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.
The Jackson Planning Board agreed with the opponents last week, voting 6-3 on Aug. 27, with five members absent, against rezoning the area to allow for development there. The board refused to change the designation from special-use zoning to either community mixed use or C-3 commercial-use zoning.
A major topic of discussion at the meeting was a letter from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, stating 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. The reversion would be triggered, according to the letter, by the land being used for anything other than parks—not just by rezoning the land.
Zoning Administrator Ester Ainsworth said the city is allowed to rezone the area in the case of a comprehensive zoning, like the one they proposed.
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.
Ainsworth, of the city, told the board that the reversion does not apply to rezoning but to use, and that the board was only voting Aug. 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?" The answer, of course, is that Costco could not then build on the site—which is the one it has chosen based on its own business analysis.
City Not Deterred
Many Jacksonians, including the mayor, want to see Costco inside the city limits—both for the sales-tax revenue it would generate and because it is known as a source of good-paying entry-level jobs.
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 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.
Yarber is undeterred in his determination to get those jobs into Jackson. In a written response to the planning-board 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 mayor pointed out in the letter that the board erred because it was only to vote on rezoning, not on use. "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," Yarber wrote.
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 in his response to the planning board.
Community Mixed Use: A Neighborhood Mixed-Use District is to accommodate the development of residential uses along with compatible, low-intensity commercial uses to serve adjacent residential areas.
C-3 General Commercial District: The purpose of this district is to provide for the preservation and perpetuation of retail and commercial enterprise, to provide areas for the development of retail type and person service type commercial, community, and regional shopping centers of integrated design and high density development of commercial businesses in certain areas adjacent to major transportation arteries or thoroughfares within the city.
Special Use District: The purpose and intent of the Special Use District zoning classification is to permit the City Council the right to establish needed zoning districts for a number of specific types of land use which do not fit compatibly into the established zoning districts because of their size, unique characteristics or institutional nature.