A developer that has not yet been named has expressed interest in the former Lee Middle School property on Military Road near the Bluecutt Road intersection. Photo by: Dispatch file photo
November 30, 2017 10:53:49 AM
There is a developer interested in purchasing the former Lee Middle School property on Military Road.
John Acker, president of the Columbus Redevelopment Authority, said a party has entered an option with the CRA to purchase the roughly 15-acre site for commercial development. The potential buyer has requested anonymity for now, Acker said.
"They will be conducting due diligence and have until late May 2018 to finalize purchase or walk away," Acker said in an email to The Dispatch.
Starkville commercial Realtor Scott Farmer listed the property in May on behalf of CRA. Wythe Rhett with Rhett Real Estate in Columbus is representing the potential buyer. The asking price for the property is $1.79 million.
CRA -- a five-member public board appointed by Columbus City Council -- has an option to purchase the former Lee Middle School, located near the Bluecutt Road intersection. By law, the option gives CRA the authority to buy the land and building for no more than its appraised value plus administrative costs or assign that right to a developer.
Appraisals conducted by Appraisal Services in Columbus estimated the cost to develop the Lee Middle property would range between $1.1 million and $1.8 million.
CRA first purchased the option for $1 from CMSD in July 2016 and has since renewed it for another year for the same amount.
Neither Acker nor CMSD Board of Trustees President Jason Spears specified upon request the exact amount CRA would pay the school district for the property when exercising its option.
Acker confirmed CRA had signed an option with the potential buyer but he would not specify details of the agreement.
CRA is a public body subject to both the open records and open meetings acts. The city has appropriated at least $50,000 in each of the last three years to fund CRA operations.
The Dispatch has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to both Spears and Acker for copies of any contracts dealing with the Lee Middle property.
Spears confirmed the CRA notified him and CMSD Superintendent Philip Hickman of an interested buyer but said he doesn't know the party's identity.
He said he is excited the project appears to be moving forward.
Lee Middle School, formerly Lee High School, closed its doors in 2011 after the opening of Columbus Middle School on Highway 373. Since then, CMSD's board has twice turned down churches interested in purchasing the property because churches do not pay property taxes.
The buildings on the property also have asbestos, which can be expensive for developers to remove. Acker previously told The Dispatch the developer would be responsible for shouldering clean-up costs, but added the state reimburses developers the costs of clearing asbestos-filled properties up to two and a half times the clean-up costs over up to 15 years, under the Mississippi Economic Redevelopment Act.
Wythe Rhett, when contacted by The Dispatch, said he would not release any information about his client, other than confirming there is one.
"... Right now, I have not got any information on anything I want to release on the Lee High School," he said. "That's it until I have been given the authority to release the information. I'm through with the information going to the paper until we have something concrete to tell."
Wythe Rhett's brother, Robert Rhett who is also with the real estate firm, is on the CRA board. But he said he has nothing directly to do with any potential sale off Lee Middle School, and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he will recuse himself if the option comes before CRA for a vote.
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