Council members tour the future home of city employees
By Gail M. Brown
Four members of the Jackson City Council and an entourage of others toured the old Belk building at the Metrocenter Mall Wednesday, Aug. 22, in response to a concern of how $50,000 of taxpayers money was used in the project.
The site is slated to become an office complex for city employees, and has been delayed close to a year, with one of the original developers, David Watkins, pulling out recently. His departure raised some eyebrows.
Council President Tony Yarber called for an investigation last week. According to reports, concerns about taxpayer dollars resurfaced at Tuesday night’s, Aug. 21, council meeting.
“We’re here because we want to see what’s happening,” Yarber told developer LeRoy Walker of Retro Metro, LLC during the tour. Other partners are businessmen Socrates Garrett and Howard Catchings.
The developers explained that most of the $50,000 provided by the city went toward an electronic wiring phase, which is being commonly referred to as “the blue wire.” Its official name is Category 6 Cable. It is the broadband and wireless connectivity for Internet, telephone and cable. “It’s state of the art and it is faster connectivity which is the right thing to do for our city, because we are moving the city forward.” said Walker.
Retro Metro explained that there are 19 miles of the wire in the building. That particular process cost $250,000, and the city’s contribution was $50,000. “We are happy to see that wire,” said Councilman Barrett-Simone with a hint of humor. Others chimed in.
Yarber stated that the tour had nothing to do with the capabilities of the developers involved. “This has to do with us being accountable to the taxpayers,” he said.
“We bring more than 30 years of experience as successful business owners in this community to this project,” said Garrett. “We bring credibility to the market place.” Each of the three partners also say they bring their individual “skill sets” to the table as well: Garrett – construction; Walker – managerial; and Catchings – financial.
Garrett pointed out at the end of the tour that “this is a very proud moment for us. We are three minority developers, and this project is 100 percent minority owned, and we hope that you will be proud of that. We’ve stepped up to put our own money into this project to help get the job done. You have a 100 percent minority developer team and 100 percent general contractor, and we are very proud of that since we live in a majority minority city.”
General Contractor Talecia Garrett of Garrett Enterprises Consolidated, Inc. was also on hand. “We have been able to hold on to the subconstractors that were here with the previous general contractor. We are working 6-7 days a week, two twelve hour shifts, all Mississippi based labor, which is something we are really really proud of,” said Talecia Garrett.
Several of the council members told the media they were pleased with the progress that they saw after the tour.
Yarber said, “I am pleased at this standpoint. I see good faith on the part of the partners. Based upon the information, we’ve been given and the schedule we’ve been provided, we are looking to get through this and get things happening for the city.”
Councilwoman Margaret Barrett Simone stated: “I am very pleased with what I see here this morning. I feel like this is a good and sound investment for the city. And, frankly, I was surprised that so much has been done. You can see that we are in the final stages here. As far as the question about the city’s investment, it’s been answered completely to my satisfaction. I am very proud of this as a matter of fact.”
Lumumba later told The Mississippi Link that he was happy to know that the developers were minority. “Given the disparity of blacks in the capacity to do jobs like this, I am very impressed and hopeful that we will see further such developments,” he said. He said he hope this can lead to the Maynard Jackson-type development determination that occurred in Atlanta some years ago.”
“However, I am still not backing down from a need for an investigation,” he concluded. He said he still had concerns, surrounding Watkins’ exit and other concerns.