Jackson County

Big-box retailers are wanted north of Ocean Springs. Will tax breaks sway them?

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Stores that have been staples of the American shopping tradition for decades are closing in large numbers. Take a closer look at the reasons why it’s so hard for retailers to stay open.

Developers have been hoping to recreate the magic of The Promenade and Walmart shopping areas in D’Iberville, but chances are slim that more big-box retailers will come to Mississippi any time soon, market conditions suggest.

Jackson County is hoping tax incentives will lure a big-box retailer to a strip of Interstate 10 just east of The Promenade and D’Iberville. The county is spending $21 million to relocate and widen Cook Road between D’Iberville’s city limits and Washington Avenue/Tucker Road north of Ocean Springs.

On Thursday morning, the state Legislature granted Jackson County the right to 18.5 percent of sales taxes collected from businesses on the new road when those taxes are used to pay off county loans for more improvements such as additional sidewalks, drainage or street lights. A business would have to invest $10 million or more to qualify for the incentive.

The state already rebates 18.5 percent of sales taxes to cities where the taxes are collected, but Jackson is the first county to secure that right. Jackson County Supervisor Troy Ross said, “This is a monumental change in state government for counties.”

The county went to the Legislature four times before the law passed. Other counties are expected to ask for the same taxing authority.

Jackson County wants to diversify its industrial tax base with retail and commercial development, Ross said. The legislation, which the governor must still sign, gives the county an incentive to offer developers in the designated area.

Ross said county officials have talked with a couple of interested retailers, who were watching to see if the state legislation passed.

But traditional retail is contracting, not expanding.

“I don’t believe that our market will support any new, large retail development,” said Scott DeLano, an owner of Southeast Commercial, a real estate brokerage and management firm. “It all boils down to incomes and demographics — discretionary dollars from within our market area. It’s a finite number of dollars and we’re saturated at this point.”

DeLano, also a state representative, did support the bill. He believes businesses will be attracted to a new Cook Road parallel to I-10. He can envision farm equipment or tractor sales, large truck sales and service — any business dependent on Interstate traffic and visibility.

DeLano said very few accessible locations are available on I-10 in the three Coast counties. If Jackson County is waiting on big-box retail, though, the county might be waiting a long time. He is currently buying 62 acres off I-10 at Cowan-Lorraine Road in Gulfport from the company that succeeded DDR, developers of Crossroads shopping center.

DDR, he said, realized it wouldn’t be developing the property as retail and wanted to remove the acreage from its portfolio.

He is working on a development plan for the land but doesn’t expect any regional or big-box retail. Gulfport had hoped for a new shopping center in the area after the limited-access Mississippi 605 corridor was built off I-10.

Instead, auto dealerships are locating there, as they are on I-10 frontage just south of The Promenade.

Ross, who represents District 4, where the interstate frontage is located, said the county hopes to award a bid soon for construction of the new Cook Road, which has not been named. Construction should take about 18 months.

“It’s one of those unique times when we’ve actually got it paid for before we start,” Ross said. “This really will be a center for economic development.”

The five-lane road will have a raised median with turning bays. Ross said the tax incentives could be used to add additional amenities that would support businesses located there.

“A tractor dealership, a car dealership, anything that has a great volume of people coming in and out will be a big benefit,” Ross said. “It’s going to create a demand for restaurants and other things that are ancillary to those high-traffic locations.”

Anita Lee is a Mississippi native who specializes in investigative, court and government reporting. She has covered South Mississippi’s biggest stories in her decades at the Sun Herald, including the Dixie Mafia, public corruption and Hurricane Katrina, a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort. Nothing upsets her more than government secrecy and seeing people suffer.
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