Renasant Center's expansion rekindled

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A $5.4 million construction project sidelined last week by jittery public officials is back in the game after a unanimous vote Wednesday.
Assured by an administrator the county could afford the project without a tax increase, the Lee County Board of Supervisors once again approved the expansion of the Renasant Center for IDEAs business incubator.
The county last year had joined the Community Development Foundation in a commitment to finance half of the expansion’s cost. The other half will come from a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.
Construction was supposed to start this month.
But when a technical matter forced the board to rescind its construction contract with CIG Contractors earlier this month, several supervisors said they were worried about the county’s ability to pay.
They tabled a motion to renew the bid process, saying they needed more financial data before approving the project again.
On Wednesday, county Administrator Sean Thompson presented information showing the county’s growth rate would easily sustain the long-term financing needed for the project.
“The financing requires 1.55 percent annual growth,” Thompson told the group. “Our average growth rate the last 10 years is 4.61 percent. For the last five years it was 5.38 percent.”
The lowest annual growth was 1.33 percent in 2001.
“We can pay for it out of the tax structure we have now,” Thompson said.
Satisfied with the projection, supervisors unanimously voted to launch another bid process.
It will take several weeks to collect bids and select a contractor. Construction likely will start by summer and is slated to last 15 months.
“We’re very pleased,” said CDF Chairman Chris Rogers, who attended the meeting along with CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger and others. “We needed to clarify some information. There will be no tax increase. We were all on the same page with that.”
Plans call for a separate 24,300-square-foot, LEED-certified facility to be built near the existing 31,180-square-foot incubator, which sits at Main and Elizabeth streets in downtown’s Fairpark District. CDF already owns the land for the proposed expansion.
Architect Richard McCarty designed the new building, which he said will fit in with the existing structure but offer a more “civic” look and feel. An artist’s rendering was not available.
When it’s finished, the building will house not only new businesses as part of the incubator, but also CDF’s offices. CDF currently is located at Main and Broadway streets.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.