| By Billy Davis
Dirt work could start as early as this spring on Covenant Crossing, the coming retail and residential development in east Batesville. The first tenant could be announced in coming weeks.
Phase one of Covenant will bring additional retail shops and restaurants to Batesville on acreage west of Lowe’s at Highway Six and Interstate 55, developer Alvan Kelly said last week.
In phase two, residential property that includes upscale homes and apartments could be developed on acreage behind the Lowe’s store.
Kelly, 55, unveiled his plans at the February 14 luncheon of the Batesville Rotary Club, where he announced the purchase of 134 total acres from Memphis developer John Hyneman.
Kelly’s total purchase from Hyneman includes 49 acres west of Lowe’s and east of I-55, and 47 acres surrounding Tri-Lakes Medical Center.
If Kelly can secure the tenants he’s touting, Covenant Crossing would be Batesville’s biggest planned development since the early ?90s, said Pam Comer, office administrator for the city’s code enforcement division.
The last large-scale development was Lakewood Villages, which brought the outlet mall, Lakewood subdivision and other businesses to the northwest corner of Highway 6 and I-55, Comer said.
"This will be big, especially for the tax dollars it brings in," Comer said.
Kelly has been in communication with the code enforcement office, Comer said, and his next step is a visit with the city’s planning commission with his plans in hand.
Covenant Crossing will be only the second project for Kelly, 55, who owns a trucking freight company, Covenant Logistics, in Olive Branch.
Reached by phone this week, Kelly said he stumbled into the development business after selling a warehouse he built and owned. Using the profit from that sale, he purchased a four-acre parcel near Wal-Mart in Hernando, later selling it to the Mi Pueblo Mexican restaurant chain.
Kelly said DeSoto County Realtor Ricky Garrett helped him sell the Hernando site and later put him in touch with Hyneman.
"From what I understand several people were trying to put a project together to buy the Batesville property and that deal fell through," Kelly said. "Ricky presented it to me, and I did some serious praying and investigated Batesville as best I could."
Kelly said his daughter April Perkins, who is a commercial real estate agent, researched Batesville’s demographic figures and saw signs of steady growth in Panola County.
"Don’t think these restaurants and other businesses aren’t watching Batesville," Kelly said. "It’s all a numbers thing."
The sale of the property from Hyneman to Kelly was recorded February 1 in the chancery clerk’s office, county records show.
Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said this week that he invited Kelly to speak at Rotary after first hearing from the businessman last month.
"Mr. Kelly called me about a week before he closed the deal (on the land) to introduce himself and tell me what he was planning," Autrey said.
Kelly told Rotarians last week that potential tenants at Covenant could include a cinema chain such as United Artists or Malco Theaters, a national restaurant chain such as Applebee’s or Chili’s, and an anchor store such as Target.
A regional restaurant such as McAllister’s is also a likely candidate, the developer said.
Kelly told The Panolian Wednesday that two "real strong prospects" are in negotiations with him about locating to the Covenant development.
"In 30 days we should be able to announce a contract with a certain restaurant," Kelly said.
Kelly predicted the first construction at Covenant Crossing could come within six months.
Regarding the residential development in phase two, Kelly said he envisions upscale homes on three-quarter or one-acre lots as well as apartments.
Kelly said he would keep an open mind about Covenant’s phase two apartment plans, apparently aware that cities often frown on allowing a lot of apartment development.
"The city can make that decision," he said regarding the apartments.
The drawing suggests two roadways that would funnel traffic north of Covenant Crossing. One road would parallel I-55 as a frontage route while the second would continue the four-lane street next to Lowe’s and wind through the residential development.
Both roads would presumably connect Covenant Crossing to Brewer Road, the closest thoroughfare north of the planned development. Highway 35 N. lies north of Brewer Road.
Regarding the property that surrounds Tri-Lakes, Kelly said hospital administrator Dr. Bob Corkern plans to purchase that property.
According to Autrey, Tri-Lakes plans to develop the property into doctor’s offices.