Highland Commons won’t be built

Published 7:00 am Saturday, July 29, 2017

Plans to develop a walkable community called Highland Commons are now cancelled.
The idea for the development was pitched to city officials as far back as 2007, before the new location of Highland Community Hospital was constructed. It was supposed to create an area within the city where people could get everything they need within walking distance by creating a commercial, medical and residential area along what is now Highland Parkway. The intent was to build that community near the new hospital as a way to draw in not only new businesses, but more people as well.
In 2015, Laurence Leyens with Urban Development pitched using Tax Increment Financing money to build infrastructure for a Walmart Neighborhood Market in an effort to create an anchor business near Highland Parkway. By bringing in a large chain such as Walmart, it would have brought the traffic needed to spark the interest of other developers and businesses, Leyons said during his meetings with the Council.
Picayune’s City Council, and the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors approved motions to move forward with that plan in 2015. By using the TIF, the city would have missed out on tax collections from that business because that money would been used to retire the bond. Some community members expressed discontent with that fact during the public hearings.
This week in a telephone interview with the Item, Leyons said that Walmart has decided not to build the grocery store due to negative feedback received from the community, and has instead moved on to other projects in areas.
However, the TIF is still active, should anyone decide to move forward with it. It will remain active for the rest of its 25 year life span. However, if it is used, the bonds still have to be repaid by the end of that time frame.
Andy Cooper, the developer involved in construction of Highland Commons, said now that Walmart lost interest, the surrounding development is also cancelled. Any development along that area at this point would be up to the bank that owns the property, Cooper said.
“We were right there,” Cooper said about how close the development was to becoming a reality. He said that he and representatives with Walmart were within two months from closing on the deal.
“We hung on as long as we could,” Cooper said.
Now, Leyons is focused on two other TIF plans he intends to propose within Pearl River County, one is in Poplarville and the other is in Picayune.

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