Officials vote to seek funding for park needs

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, February 1, 2006

City and county officials Tuesday voted to seek EconomicDevelopment Administration help with infrastructure for thecommunity’s new business park, but an agency representative offereda lukewarm assessment of the application’s chance for success.

In evaluating applications, EDA Economic Developmentrepresentative Bob Hunter said projects that are funded typicallyhave a commitment from an industry or business to locate in thecommunity seeking help. He added, though, EDA considers otherfactors as well.

“There are a number of things we look at,” said Hunter,acknowledging local contributions to a project, availableindustrial land and location.

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Hunter said Brookhaven is in a good location between two majormetropolitan areas of Jackson and New Orleans.

“I can see where you definitely have some potential fordevelopment,” Hunter said.

The city, county and Industrial Development Foundation havepurchased the land for the new LinBrook Business Park west ofBrookhaven. Officials now, though, are looking for approximately $6million to provide infrastructure to the park.

Following Hunter’s comments, Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishoppointed out the conundrum that Brookhaven and Lincoln County arein. He said it is hard to get infrastructure funding for the parkwithout an committed industry but it is hard to get an industrycommitment without a park with infrastructure.

“We’re in kind of a Catch-22 situation,” Bishop said.

Hunter said EDA can fund up to 50 percent of a project, but theagency generally limits its contributions to $1-$1.5 million tomake funding go further. He said EDA only has $40 million forconstruction projects in eight states.

“Our money is very limited this year,” Hunter said.

Wirt Peterson, director of the Southwest Mississippi Planningand Development District, said his agency could work with engineerCarl Ray Furr to phase in the infrastructure project and thusreduce initial costs.

Although a lobbyist scandal in Washington has dampened prospectsfor some earmarks, Furr was optimistic that additional federalfunding following Hurricane Katrina would become available andcould possibly be used for park needs. He also cited the influenceof Sens. Thad Cochran, the Senate Appropriations Committeechairman, and Trent Lott on funding possibilities.

“I think that we should move forward,” Furr said.

Since other funding avenues are being pursued, Mayor BobMassengill suggested an Interstate 55 Exit 40 cluster lightingproject included in the $6 million estimate could be removed. Thatwould lower the project costs by around $500,000.

Hunter said funding is considered in two phases: apre-application and then a full application. He indicated chanceswould be good if a pre-application, which takes about 30 days toconsider, is approved.

“Once we invite an application, it’s very seldom we don’t fundthat project,” Hunter said.

Following a joint meeting between city, county and chamberofficials, aldermen and supervisors voted unanimously to submit apre-application for funding help.

Massengill said he agreed with going forward with theapplication even though it may have to be tailored back. Even ifrejected, he said the community would know where it standsregarding possible help from EDA.

“We need to stop kidding ourselves if this is not a source offunding until we have a commitment (from an industry),” the mayorsaid.

In addition to EDA, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce Executive Vice President Cliff Brumfield said communityofficials will look at other opportunities to fund infrastructureneeds.

“We don’t want to leave any stone unturned,” Brumfield said.