March 8, 2018 10:47:36 AM
The real estate company working with a potential buyer of the Lee Middle School property has filed a protective order in response to a public records request by The Dispatch to see contracts the buyer has with the Columbus Redevelopment Authority.
CRA announced in November a potential developer, represented by Wythe Rhett of Rhett Real Estate, Inc., had purchased an option on the Lee Middle property on Military Road, but did not release the buyer's identity or the price the buyer paid for the option.
The authority also has not specified the nature of the potential development at the site, other than to say it would be commercial.
In January, The Dispatch submitted a public records request to CRA requesting all executed and non-executed contracts related to options and purchase offers for the property. CRA board attorney Jeff Turnage notified Rhett of the request Feb. 8, citing a Mississippi law which states any contract provided to a public body by a third party which contains confidential commercial or financial information cannot be released to the public without the third party being notified. From there, Rhett had 21 days to file a protective order, keeping the contract confidential.
Rhett filed the complaint for the protective order March 1.
"The Dispatch respects the need for confidentiality in pending developments," said Peter Imes, publisher for The Dispatch. "However, not all development is good. This property is unique in that it is a large site in the middle of Columbus that holds a lot of memories for locals who graduated from the old Lee High. For these reasons, we think the public should have some information on the type of development proposed."
CRA board chairman John Acker previously told The Dispatch the property's potential buyer would complete due diligence in May before deciding whether to execute the option to purchase the site.
The Lee Middle School property has been for sale by Columbus Municipal School District since 2012, when the current Columbus Middle School opened on Highway 373. In July 2016, the CRA purchased a $1 option from CMSD to market the property, which was renewed for another $1 in July 2017.