A jury on Thursday awarded The Shed BBQ and Blues Joint $408,334 for the half-acre of land between the restaurant and Mississippi 57.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation is taking the land for the widening of Mississippi 57.
The .43 acres that MDOT is taking will include a portion of a sports bar at the business and a piece of the stage. The state claimed it would not touch the restaurant proper.
The owners of The Shed argued in court, however, that taking that property, plus new setbacks, would leave them with less than an acre to function on and could cause them to have to rebuild The Shed. They argued that damage to the building and land would be worth closer to $1.5 million.
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The popular restaurant, just north of Interstate 10 near Vancleave, burned in 2012 and issues about whether they rebuilt the structure to meet the county building code came up in the eminent domain hearing in Jackson County Court this week.
When asked if they were pleased with the jury award, owners Brad Orrison and Brooke Lewis deferred to their attorney, Stopher Haug, who said they were glad the jury awarded them twice what MDOT wanted to pay, but it is very likely they will appeal.
Too cramped to stay?
The owners of The Shed argued that although the piece of land is small, what MDOT is taking would impact the configuration of the buildings and possibly cause them to have to rebuild.
They are also facing a court case with the Jackson County Planning Department in January over code violations and whether they need to elevate the buildings to meet federal requirements.
But attorneys in the eminent domain case this week told the Sun Herald that the amount the jury awarded “doesn’t cover the true measure of damages to the building.”
“They need more money if they are going to rebuild as result of this acquisition,” Haug said.
They are looking at their options, he said.
“What’s not clear to the public is the impact this will have on the building,” Haug said. “That’s why the law allows them to recover damages for not just the value of the land being taken but also damages to the building.”
An earlier offer
The eminent domain case has been in county court for four years.
Haug said that at one point MDOT deposited more than $1 million dollars with the court to cover the value of that piece of property, the .43 acres. He said that proves that at one point MDOT agreed the property was worth more.
As the legal case moved forward, that offer from the state was withdrawn “and MDOT fired that appraiser,” he said.
Haug said The Shed also got an insurance settlement after the 2012 fire, but Shed attorneys did not offer that as evidence of what it cost to rebuild, because it wasn’t applicable.
The cost to rebuild became an issue in the trial this week. MDOT complained that it did not get a solid figure on what it cost Orrison and Lewis to bring The Shed back after the fire. MDOT deferred to a line item on a 2012 tax return of $176,000. The Shed attorneys countered that number by giving additional expenses for building listed on the general business ledger.
They also said a lot of the labor and materials were donated and Shed employees were paid to help rebuild the structure. They never had a lay off and Lewis showed the jury how much more the payroll was the year of the fire than in previous years. They said it cost considerably more than that to rebuild the 10,000 square feet of space at the business. They offered construction estimates and other appraisals that set the rebuild cost at closer to $1.5 million.
The Jackson County jury deliberated a little less than two hours before deciding on an award for the restaurant.
Both sides agreed that the value of the land was roughly $100,000, court officials said, so it appears the jury agreed with arguments that the business was damaged by at least $300,000. There will also be attorney fees.
Haug said the case is an example of how difficult it is for landowners to be fully compensated when MDOT takes private property for public use.
“Brad and Brooke decided to fight this because they could,” he said. “Others up and down Mississippi 57 might not have the resources to fight.”