Developer thinking big for Batesville

Published 7:31 am Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar has asked city leaders for their support of a proposed study to determine whether Batesville would be a suitable location for an ambitious economic development project that would thrust the city to the forefront of tourist destinations not only in Mississippi, but in the Southeast trade region.

Dubbed Batesville in Motion, developers and advocates say the three-phase plan would pump nearly $850 million in capital investment into Batesville, creating more than 900 full time jobs. Azar presented an overview of the proposed development to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen in a special meeting last Friday (Aug. 27) at City Hall. He will make the same pitch to the Panola County Board of Supervisors at their next regular meeting scheduled for Tuesday (Sept. 6) at the Sardis Courthouse.

Azar hopes to persuade the city and county boards to share the cost of a study that will be used to apply for federal grants available through the Economic Development Administration to jumpstart the project.

“Batesville’s location is strategic, that’s number one,” said developer Kenny Farrell. “It’s one hour from the Memphis International Airport and that’s a major factor. Second, the city’s previous investment in their civic center that has been well maintained is an obvious plus.”

“What made us decide on putting a MAG (Municipal Arts & Government) Center at the Batesville site was the existing collaborative partnership spirit that is very evident and the energetic economic development efforts in the county,” he said.

The cost of the study is $150,00 and requires a match of 30 percent, or $45,000, local participation. Azar proposes that five entities share that cost – the city and county boards, Panola Partnership, the developers, and the owners of the property where the project would come to fruition.

“We’re asking our local elected officials to designate $9,000 from their respective boards, along with the Partnership’s commitment and that of the landowners and the developer, and I believe that’s a reasonable request,” Azar said. “Worst case scenario is that the study would come back and say that maybe Batesville isn’t right for this type of project at this time, but if that were to happen all the parties would benefit from the massive amount of research and data the study will generate. It’s information we need to move Batesville to the next level city I know we can be.”

Lead developer Farrell of Memphis conceived the idea for Batesville in Motion more than two years ago when plans for the Batesville Concourse were announced by Northwest Community College.

“The Partnership and local stakeholders have been working with Kenny and the property owners and I’m very excited for the opportunity this presents for Batesville and it’s sustained growth over the next ten to twenty years,” Azar said.

The development site is 260 acres at the southeast corner of Hwy. 6E and I-55. Roughly, the project would eventually stretch from the vacant property behind Wal Mart to The Cross location, and then east past Panola Medical Center and the Batesville Civic Center.

If approved, funded, and developed, the project would be a candidate for a tourism district designation, an important milestone for managers who oversee the construction of similar projects, often referred to as “live, work, and play” mini-cities.

These type projects began to emerge in the last decade when developers started designing areas that include housing, restaurants, retail shopping, entertainment, and recreational facilities in planned communities.

The idea for the mixed-use developments is to attract millennial aged and younger people who place livability and amenities high on their priority list when choosing where to settle and raise families.

In a letter from the Batesville in Motion, LLC, that accompanied the presentation to the Batesville mayor and aldermen, developers said “Our assessment is that as job growth and quality of life assets improve and expand, it will be crucial for Batesville to offer more appealing residential housing options. Batesville in Motion’s master plan includes over 100 townhomes, 1,200 progressive New Urbanism format condos and apartments and almost 100 acres perfectly positioned for a new single-family neighborhood that can include meaningful parks, sports, recreation, education, and church sites.”

The scope of the fully completed project is staggering and makes the nearly $1 billion price tag seem reasonable. For comparison, readers familiar with the Oxford Commons project in Lafayette County, can picture a similar development for this project. 

Azar said the highlights, by phase with cost and expected jobs, will include:

Phase I – Water Park and Aquatics Center ($24M, 20 jobs); Family Entertainment complex ($6.5M, 12 jobs) with two Ferris wheels, a carousel, and a two-screen drive-in theater; three 100-room hotels ($36M, 120 jobs); and three restaurants ($6 million, 61 jobs). Site acquisition and improvements will add $6 million to the Phase I costs.

Phase II – MAG Center ($35M, 50 jobs) which would be a convention center with exhibit space, a mega-cinema with 10 screens and stadium seating, art and antiques auction house venue, and athletic tournaments and play venues; two 150-room hotels attached to the convention center ($58M, 96 jobs); six more small hotels ($74M, 230 jobs); eight more restaurants ($23M, 206 jobs); 50 townhomes ($25M); 600 mixed use urban condo/commercial units in six buildings ($165M) and two parking garages ($16M). Some $22M would be needed for site improvements in Phase II.

Phase III – Two more restaurants ($6M, 60 jobs); two more hotels/office park ($24M, 66 jobs); 50 more townhomes ($25M); two more parking garages ($16M); eight office buildings ($80M); and 600 more mixed-use urban condo/commercial units ($165M). About $10M would be needed for Phase III site improvements, according to the figures presented to the board.

The Batesville city board is expected to vote next week regarding their support of the project study.