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Concourse work beginning; City waives permit fees

Fees for permits associated with the rehabilitation of the Factory Stores outlet mall into The Concourse were waived by order of the Batesville Mayor and Board of Aldermen at their regular meeting Tuesday.

The general contractor made the request so workers could begin mobilizing equipment and start some of the demolition for the project as early as Thursday (April 23).

Mayor Jerry Autrey told board members the contractor was not attempting to circumvent normal city procedure, just that he didn’t realize the project needed permits and wanted to begin demo work this week.

Without the fee waivers and regular review process the Mayor said the project could be held up month or more.

Asst. City Attorney Column Mitchell said poor communication from the beginning resulted in the problem, and advised the board to be certain the contractor understood the parameters of the waivers, if approved.

“You have a lot of chiefs saying a lot of things and what this board approves needs to be in writing, and make sure it’s not open ended. Make sure you’re very specific about what you’re waiving,” said Mitchell, who noted that similar problems came up when Lowe’s Home Improvement was in its first phase of construction in Batesville.

Mitchell was referring to the multi-faceted approach necessary for the workforce development project to become a reality.

Panola County bought the property through the Panola Partnership for $2.5 million with the assistance of multiple state and federal legislative offices and agencies, and the City of Batesville contributed $2.5 million to the rehab project. Northwest Mississippi Community College will staff and operate the The Concourse, with input and participation from regional industry.

Public Works Director agreed with Mitchell’s assessment, adding that from the start of the physical work the contractor should communicate closely, following all the city’s building codes and site design requirements.

“With everybody involved I think it was just a loss of communication. The contractor wants to do everything Andy (Berryhill) wants, he just didn’t realize with it being a county project that he needed to go through the proper channels. It just wasn’t communicated to him like it should have been,” Karr said.

Karr said elected officials in Jackson and Washington are watching the project closely, and the deal could ill afford a delay because of overlooked paperwork.

Karr also told the board that their decision to waive fees for permits related to The Concourse will result in a lower total price for the project. All permit fees will be taken off the bottom line for the final construction costs, and will be a savings on the project, not an increase in profits for any company.

The final motion included language waiving all building and design fees for the contractor, and all sub-contractor permits, including electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and gas.

“I’m okay with them going ahead with demo as long as there’s no new construction taking place for now,” said Berryhill, the city’s Code Enforcement Office administrator. Berryhill said his office will treat the project like any other rehab or construction that takes place in the city limits.

A contract for the first phase was approved by the Board of Supervisors two weeks ago. That contract went to Century Construction of Tupelo in the amount of $8.4 million.

All involved are hopeful the old mall’s stores are refurbished and ready for career and technical classes for the Fall 2021 academic semester.

Besides the permits that will be required for the rehab and new construction, a set of detailed plans in full color will need to be submitted to the Planning Commission for approval of site design, including color schemes, signage and landscaping details.

In other board business Tuesday, aldermen took under advisement a bid from F&F Construction of Memphis for $96,900 to repair the large electronic message center located at Hwy. 6E and Medical Center Drive. One side of the message center, which is part of the Batesville Civic Center, has been out for several months and facility manager Roy Hyde reviewed the bids received, Karr said.

F&F included references that said the company installed, or maintains, large electronic message centers at the Southland Casino Racing (Greyhound track)  in West Memphis, Ark., and Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.

With the Civic Center currently closed for events and generating no revenue, and a looming budget shortfall, aldermen said the flashing billboard repair will have to wait for now.