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