Mayor Johnny Magee, center, shows artists’ renderings of the Beacon Street Gateway Project and discusses it with Sertoma Club members, from left, Klein Estess, Chris Tullos, Chris Kline and Craig Orr. (Photo by Mark Thornton)

Gateway project gets big boost

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City acquiring final piece  of property for corridor; 3 new businesses in old  buildings get tax breaks

Five years ago, Mayor Johnny Magee met with the Laurel Sertoma Club and told members that they may have to change the Christmas parade route because of construction that was expected to start. 

Fast forward five years. Ground still hasn’t been broken on the Gateway Beacon Street Corridor Improvement project. 

“It’s frustrating,” Magee said after Tuesday’s meeting of the Laurel City Council. “Most of the time, when there’s a big project like this, you don’t have the money. We have the money. We just can’t get over the hurdles.”

The council started the process to clear what’s believed to be the last hurdle to begin the beautification of the route that tourists and travelers will be steered toward to make their way to downtown Laurel. 

The council unanimously agreed to file a complaint against Daniel G. Kamin Gardiner, LLC to use eminent domain to acquire a few feet of his property along Leontyne Price Boulevard at the Gardiner Center shopping center, where the old Winn-Dixie and new Grocery Depot are.

Gardiner was offered $19,510 for his property, but that amount was “rejected … with a demand for more.” Magee said the legal process should take about 30 days. The law firm Hortman, Harlow, Bassi, Robinson & McDaniel are handling the case to acquire the property.

“This is the last one,” Magee said, referring to all the pieces of property that have to be acquired to widen the roadway, construct a landscaped median, add decorative lights and bury utility lines.

The council voted unanimously to proceed with legal remedies, agreeing to do what is “necessary to acquire (the property) for public use,” according to the complaint.

The project is a $4.5 million plan to make a more attractive entry to the city from the interstate. The city is having to pay just under $1 million and MDOT is providing the rest of the funds. The plan has taken on more significance since the city has become the subject of the HGTV series “Home Town,” bringing in more tourists. The project was authorized and activated under a Memorandum of Understanding on May 7, 2013.

In another matter involving downtown property, the council unanimously agreed to grant an ad valorem tax exemption to three new businesses — Laurel Mercantile, Guild and Gentry and Pearl’s Diner — on the value of some improvements or renovations that were done to the previously abandoned buildings. 

The tax exemptions start Jan. 1, 2019 and continue for a period of seven years.

“It is in the best interest of the City of Laurel to grant such tax exemption(s) in order to promote and encourage development of the Central Business District,” according to the resolution that the council agreed on.

The improvements at Pearl’s Diner are valued at $80,580, Laurel Mercantile’s are valued at $76,320 and Guild and Gentry’s are valued at $9,340, according to Jones County Tax Assessor records.

All of the properties are owned by Marcella Investment Group LLC, which is registered in the name of downtown developer Josh Nowell at 317 West Oak St., in downtown Laurel, according to the city’s Certificate of Occupancy. 

Any enterprise that has done recent renovations or improvements inside the area designated as the Central Business District can apply for the tax exemption, Magee said.

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