The Cook Road corridor runs along I-10 north of Ocean Springs from the shopping mecca of Sangani Boulevard, to where North Washington Avenue becomes Tucker Road and intersects with Seaman Road.
It’s the county’s big chance to pull some of the mega-retail development over the Harrison County line and into Jackson County.
County supervisors have been planning it for years. And all the while, Sangani Boulevard and the Promenade have continued to boom, spilling retail development across Interstate 10 and down into D’Iberville.
But with construction beginning to widen Cook Road to five lanes and put in medians and lights — making it a boulevard of its own — and a bill in the Legislature that would give Jackson County the super power to attract businesses, this may be the year.
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House Bill 1166 (also in the senate Finance Committee) would let Jackson County (not a city) use a special bonding authority, usually reserved for cities, to become a economic development engine.
And if it works in Jackson County, Supervisor Randy Bosarge said, then Harrison and Hancock counties might get the option of doing it as well.
He said if the bill passes the Legislature, and that’s a big if since it failed last year, then Jackson County would become a test case for allowing counties to use TIF — Tax Increment Financing.
It is a way to subsidize the costs of redevelopment, building the things that big retailers need, and paying the money back with a portion of the sales tax generated.
Jackson County would be the first county to use it in Mississippi if the bill passes.
Counties left out
Bosarge said Jackson County has been getting hits from national retailers for the past two years as plans for Cook Road began to come together.
The zoning for big retail ventures is in place and the parcels of land along Cook Road are big and generous, Bosarge said.
“We’re sitting in a prime position,” he said. The county has watched development come right to the Harrison-Jackson county line from Sangani, just knocking at the door.
He said the county has been lacking a big shopping area since the Singing River Mall closed in Gautier.
And playing off the Sangani area is perfect, but Jackson County doesn’t have a city north of I-10 that could used TIF.
And it’s cities that have the power to issue these bonds and attract big retail.
In the bill, the county would be able to share sales tax for really big projects. A minimum of $10 million would be the requirement, a level of spending that wouldn’t come easily to most counties.
Rep. Jeffrey Guice, of Ocean Springs, urged the House Ways and Means Committee last week to give Jackson County the power to “bring a national-style tenant that will bring shoppers” from Mobile and maybe farther.
The committee chair suggested the bill could be a template for redevelopment efforts in tax-increment finance districts statewide.
And Bosarge pointed out that if a certain level of retailer doesn’t come, the county wouldn’t use this power.
The way the law is set up now, if Jackson County were to pay to attract development along the road, the sales tax brought in would go to the state. There is no mechanism for the county to receive a portion of the sales tax. However, ad valorem taxes and jobs would be a return.
Bosarge said he wants commercial development, because it pays ad valorem taxes and doesn’t seek the tax breaks that industry does.
He said they are in discussion with one development group for stores that would be new for this area.
But they aren’t resting on hope. Jackson County has bought the right-of-way along Cook Road and is setting up a contract for clearing the entire stretch, from the Harrison County line to Seaman Road.
It has spent $9.5 million in federal earmarks on the right-of-way and environmental considerations, with another $9.6 million coming. The governor has set it aside for the project out of the BP oil spill Restore Act money.
All of this is for the first phase — 1 1/2 miles of five-lane boulevard beginning at the Harrison County line.
Phase II will be to vastly improve the intersection of Cook, Tucker (North Washington after it crosses I-10) and Seaman roads. Then the final phase would be the middle section, 1.75 miles of Cook Road from Victoria Drive to the intersection.
“Once we get the first phase in and people know the rest is coming, they’ll be able to attract businesses,” County Road Manager Joe O’Neal said. “Tying into Sangani Boulevard on the west end will be the key.”
This is the year the county will pay $1.5 million for wetlands mitigation and to relocate a gas line.
It hopes to let the clearing contract this year, and in the fall, begin the first phase of road construction.
O’Neal has seen this project under three supervisors for the district — Frank Leach, Tommy Brodnax and Troy Ross.
O’Neal said, “It’s been a long time coming.”
The AP contributed to this report.