A little less than a year ago, the City of Hattiesburg and the Southern Mississippi Planning & Development District partnered to institute a Commercial Redevelopment Program with the goal of redeveloping vacant or blighted buildings with the of reimbursement grants.
Because of the success that program has had in Hattiesburg, the two entities and the program were recently awarded the Mississippi Economic Development Council’s Community Economic Development Award.
The award program is a “best practices” program intended to recognize exceptional contributions of communities in Mississippi in four endeavors: business retention and expansion; business recruitment; community development and community involvement.
“It’s very exciting; it’s a very competitive award,” said Lindsay Ward, economic development manager for the SMPDD. “It’s actually based off population sizes, so not only were we going up against other cities in that size category, but other counties as well.
“So honestly, it’s very competitive and very exciting that we won. This program and this award would not have been possible without the City of Hattiesburg.”
The Commercial Redevelopment Program, which was approved by Hattiesburg City Council in August 2019, provides a reimbursement grant for a portion of the costs associated with redevelopment of properties. That portion of funding is based on the over-and-above increase in sales tax generated by a commercial entity at that redevelopment.
“If a commercial building is vacant, it’s not producing any sales taxes for the city,” Ward said. “So through that redevelopment process, anything with that zero that’s not being produced is eligible for that reimbursement grant.”
In Hattiesburg’s case, the program is being implemented in specific underdeveloped areas of the city that have been deemed to need the most assistance, based on the severity of vacant and blighted properties – more specifically, areas between U.S. 49 and the Leaf and Bouie rivers.
The program is designed to attract businesses and recruitment to those underdeveloped areas, and can be used to support commercial projects of any size.
“We have a partnership with the City of Hattiesburg for using this Commercial Redevelopment Program, and so I nominated our whole entire project for that (Community Economic Development) Award,” Ward said. “There’s a couple of categories they look at, between workforce development, business recruitment, community development – they look at all those sorts of factors.
“So I nominated the project with Mayor (Toby) Barker’s blessing, and thankfully it won.”
For the immediate future, city and SMPDD officials will look to advocate and spread the word about the Commercial Redevelopment Program, as well as opportunities within the city.
“The goal of the program is obviously to redevelop the vacant and blighted buildings throughout the main wards in Hattiesburg,” Ward said. “So now would be a good opportunity to do those advocacy points – have some Lunch and Learn and meetings to educate folks about the program.”