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Barbour calls session for next week; DeSoto project tops agenda

Gov. Haley Barbour is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol next week to consider incentives for an economic-development project in DeSoto County.

The special session begins at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The main item on the agenda will be incentives for Riverbend Crossing, a proposed residential and commercial development in southwest DeSoto County. The 4,500-acre site sits south of Memphis and north of the booming casino area of Mississippi’s Tunica County.

“This enormous development will include unique, branded tourist attractions and convention facilities that will benefit not only northwest Mississippi but also the entire state,” Barbour said in a news release Friday. “The state is pleased to join with local governments in DeSoto County in providing these modest incentives for the project to be located in our state.”

Barbour said he’ll ask lawmakers to approve $23 million for roads, water and sewer for the project. He also said he’ll seek approval for a tourism sales-tax rebate limited to 30 percent of capital expenditures for each eligible project investment for 10 years.

The rebate would equal 80 percent of the sales tax collected from each eligible project under a total rebate ceiling of $150 million for Riverbend.

Barbour said his proposal will include safeguards for public money. If a developer fails to meet terms specified by the state, for example, they would not qualify for sales tax rebates, he said.

The governor said the Riverbend project would include an entertainment district by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The development would be in the district of Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando.

“This is going to be a tourist attraction unlike anything this region has got right now,” Davis said Friday. “This will be family oriented and will complement the northwest part of the state.”

Davis said the state Institutions of Higher Learning conducted a study that shows Riverbend Crossing would create 28,000 jobs, 13,000 of which would be permanent. Davis said the study also shows that over 15 years the project is developing, Mississippi is projected to get more than $600 million in new tax collections from it.

“I have done my best to make sure the taxpayers’ money is protected by the fullest extent while maintaining a good investment by the state,” Davis said.

The development eventually would have about 9,500 homes, he said.

Barbour called five special legislative sessions in 2005, but this is the first he has called this year. Lawmakers ended their regular, three-month session in early April, and the 2007 session starts in early January.

Only a governor can call a special session, and he decides what’s on the agenda. Economic-development sessions typically include requests for approval of state bond money.

Barbour said in Tupelo this week that he also is likely to put some Hurricane Katrina recovery issues on a special session agenda. The one-year anniversary of the storm is Aug. 29.