$4 million in ARPA funds to help spur growth on Farish Street, JRA commissioner says

Boarded up businesses along Farish Street (file photo)
Boarded up businesses along Farish Street (file photo)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 4:52 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba is proposing spending $4 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds on a project that some say could be a catalyst for revitalizing the Farish Street Historic District.

Recently, officials with the administration outlined their priorities for using $5.5 million of the first $21 million the city has received in American Rescue Plan Act funds, including $4 million to fund the “Farish Soul City Market,” a potential food court at the corner of Farish and Amite streets.

To put that $4 million in perspective, the city spent half of that to repair some 300 water main breaks following the winter water crisis of 2018.

Additionally, the mayor wants to allocate $500,000 toward a cooperative incubator, $500,000 to a guaranteed income program for low-income residents, and $250,000 each toward “The Bean Path District” and the Jackson Zoological Park.

Chief of Staff Safiya Omari, who shared details with the council, did not say how those funds would be used spent. We requested an interview with Omari, but so far one has not been set up.

The mayor said Soul City Market, also known as Project X, was being pushed by the Jackson Redevelopment Authority (JRA).

Alex Lawson, a member of the JRA board of commissioners, said the project is in the preliminary stages and a study is being conducted to determine the best use for the site.

“We hope it will serve as an anchor project. It’s called Project X because we don’t know what it is yet,” he said. “One idea that has bubbled to the surface is the ‘Soul City Market.’ The board has not voted on anything yet, but it’s the idea that has caught the board’s eye the most.

“It would serve as a food court, which would invite in restaurants and allow other types of vendors to display their works and rent space.”

Lawson said the property being studied is located at 216 N. Farish St., at the corner of the Farish and Amite intersections.

He said the property is owned by JRA. However, the feasibility study and the construction would be funded entirely by the city.

“A large portion of ARPA funds is intended to be used to spur economic development in cities as a way to alleviate economic burdens cities and residents have faced throughout COVID,” he said. “We’re hoping this will add jobs, bring in some additional tax revenue to the city, and do other things to spur economic development.”

The feasibility study is being conducted by Carbon Office, a firm co-founded by Travis Crabtree and Salam Rida. Crabtree served as the city’s director of long-range planning from 2018 to 2020, according to a copy of his resume found on Carbon Office’s website. Rida served as an urban designer for the city during that same period.

The council unanimously approved entering a $42,500 contract with the firm in June.

“We’re hoping to get a presentation from them in the next two months. That will give us the idea of what are the options, so the board can make some decisions,” Lawson said. “Because JRA owns the property, we will be heavily involved in what the final outcome of the property will be.”

Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in Farish Street redevelopment efforts over the years. A WLBT-Mississippi Today investigation in 2019 showed that in the last four decades, city, state, and federal agencies had spent or committed $51 million to revitalize properties there, including $10 million in taxpayer money.

The mayor’s plans also include allocating $250,000 to the Bean Path, a nonprofit that provides technical assistance to small businesses and individuals in the community, as well as engineering and coding programs for youth, according to its website.

The $250,000 being offered up by Lumumba would be a major windfall for the 501(c)(3), which took in just $1,775 in revenue in 2018, its first year in operation, and $27,762 its second year, according to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s website.

Filings show that total expenses for The Bean Path were more than $28,000, with $22,470 going to administrative expenses, the website states.

The Bean Path financial information, found at the Secretary of State's website.
The Bean Path financial information, found at the Secretary of State's website.(WLBT)

We reached out to the group via the phone number provided on the Secretary of State’s website. We emailed them but have yet to hear back.

All expenses still must be approved by the Jackson City Council. Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote and Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay said the city needed to use the funds to address infrastructure of crime needs.

“The purpose of the American Rescue Plan is not to be another set of handouts but to help Jackson recover from its infrastructure (problems) and to get enough police on the beat to make Jackson a safer place,” he said.

The Biden Administration has handed down an executive order allowing ARPA funds to go toward crime-fighting efforts, such as hiring police officers and providing police equipment.

Like Foote, Lindsay first heard of the mayor’s plans at Thursday’s budget hearing.

“All of this is just a wish list because the council has to approve the expenditures,” she said. “We have to, first and foremost, have a priority on addressing our massive infrastructure issues. That has to be a priority with these funds.”

Jackson is facing an estimated $170 million in water system repairs and improvements tied to an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) administrative order issued earlier this year.

The city also has some $945 million in mandated sewer repairs that must be made as part of a sewer consent decree administered by EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In February, during the winter water crisis, the city asked lawmakers for more than $100 million in funding for its water system, including $47 million to make emergency repairs at its water treatment plants.

Both plants were damaged during the storms, leaving tens of thousands of customers without water for weeks.

The legislature approved just $3 million, though, with lawmakers saying Jackson was set to receive $42 million from ARPA.

District 26 Sen. John Horhn said he would speak to the mayor about the proposed expenditures.

“I’ll tell you that if the legislature looks up and sees that there’s not an appreciable amount of that resource being put to infrastructure it’s going to put a chill on their willingness to help the city out,” he said.

Jackson is slated to receive $42 million in direct allocations from ARPA. The first $21 million was delivered to the city recently.

Of that, $12.7 million went to infrastructure. Jackson approved spending $8 million to install a 48-inch water main from Silas Brown to I-220. Construction on that should begin this fall, once materials are available.

“That should help us improve capacity to South Jackson and alleviate issues downtown,” City Engineer Charles Williams said.

South Jackson was one of the hardest-hit areas during the winter water crisis, in part, because the city could not build up enough pressure at the treatment plants to push water throughout the city’s distribution system.

The lines being replaced are “old as dirt” 24-inch and 16-inch mains, Williams said.

Another $1.8 million is going toward sanitary sewer evaluation services, while roughly $950,000 is going toward design and construction administration for projects at the water treatment facilities.

Horhn said he plans to speak with the mayor to discuss how the remaining ARPA funds are being used.

He said the more the city spends on infrastructure, the more it is likely to get a piece of the $1.8 billion in COVID relief dollars received by the state.

Local governments from across Mississippi are already drawing up plans seeking a portion of the funding from the legislature, he said.

“The city is free to allocate the money where it chooses. But the Jackson delegation is trying to give the city a heads up that a significant portion of it needs to go towards infrastructure,” he said. “If that happens, it puts us in a better position for us to argue for the state to more.”

Lumumba could not be reached for comment.

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