$2.7B Riverbend project stalled for now - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Walls, Miss.

$2.7B Riverbend project stalled for now

Walls Mayor Gene Alday said he's not sitting

around waiting for construction to begin on the stalled $2.7

billion Riverbend Crossing development.

By now, had the Riverbend project gone forward as expected,

roads and bridges would be in the engineering phase and city

officials would be initiating annexation plans, not to mention

hiring new police and fire personnel.

"There is a lot of planning involved in something like this,"

Alday said. "There are a lot of issues that you have to take up.

This is not a baby project. By now, we would have had to do the

research to find money for cars and police. We would have had to

have started a new fire station."

Even after developers were given a three-month extension to get

their financing together, work still has not begun on the project.

"I think they (developers) ran into financial difficulties and

they are trying to work through it," Alday said.

Only two years remain before the $173 million of incentives

approved in 2006 by the Mississippi Legislature expire if

construction is not well under way. According to state officials,

2010 is the ultimate deadline for the project.

Alday said the city has plans to annex two miles to the north,

an area that includes the Delta Bluffs subdivision.

Even with the state incentives package, the Town of Walls would

have to pony up a tidy sum in order to improve infrastructure, said

to Alday.

"It will still be a lot of out of pocket expense for us,"

Alday said.

State Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, said he has talked with

Riverbend developers and they remain optimistic the project can get

back on track.

"Nothing has changed as far as they are concerned," Davis

said. "They are still moving forward. At least that's the way we

ended our conversation."

Riverbend developers still do not have all 4,500 acres needed

for the project.

So far only 60 acres of the 4,500-acre development has been

purchased for the proposed upscale residential community and

entertainment development on the banks of the Mississippi River.

Riverbend developers have sought option extensions on about 200

acres of the 4,500 acres required for key portions of the project.

About one-fourth of the Riverbend property involves land

currently owned by Entergy Mississippi.

Aspen Investments, LLC, owns the lion' share of Riverbend

property or more than 2,200 acres purchased from Prudential in late

2005. The sole owner of Aspen Investments, LLC is Jennifer Smith, a

resident of Jonesboro, Ark.

The land deal to acquire all 4,500 acres of the Riverbend

property is estimated to cost $35 million.

Technically, Riverbend developers say they met a state imposed

June 1 deadline by securing just enough land to begin engineering

and exploratory work. A subsequent State Attorney General's opinion

joined an opinion by Mississippi Development Authority officials

that California developer Bill Phillips and his team had met the

deadline.

Six months ago, a financial firm in New York representing

Phillips allegedly pulled out of the Riverbend deal.

In September 2007, Phillips and his development team had

selected another financial lender for the project.

A year earlier the Mississippi Legislature approved $23 million

in infrastructure funds to construct utilities, roads and bridges

to the Riverbend site.

According to the state's negotiated deal, the $23 million in

funds were off the table if developers didn't begin construction by

June 1, 2007. The attorney general's opinion, rendered after that

deadline passed, has settled that issue, at least for now.

Riverbend has proposed building a $30 million aquarium, three

luxury hotels and four signature golf courses among other

amenities. Developers plan to build more than 9,500 homes on the

site. Additionally, commercial shops also are planned. Walls

officials anticipate 30,000 new residents by the time the project

is completely built out within 10 to 15 years.

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