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VOL. 119 | NO. 9 | Thursday, January 13, 2005

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By Andy Meek

Development Blitz Continues in DeSoto

2004 characterized by retail, medical, industrial expansion


The Daily News

New retail development, an expanded regional hospital and money to build 10 new schools were only some of the products of a year in which the theme for DeSoto County was more, more, more.

The county saw more retail development, including the much-anticipated 625,000-square-foot Southaven Towne Center, construction of which began in late 2004. The open-air mall, slated to open in the fall, is expected to give a big boost to Southaven sales tax revenue. Also in Southaven, the 1 million-square-foot DeSoto Pointe shopping center is slated to open by 2006. And in Hernando, construction began on a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the largest retail development so far in the city.

Responding to growth. More school options were made possible by the passage of a $115 million school bond issue in the spring, the largest in state history. Combined with additional monies, the bond will fund construction of 10 schools in the next three years, and a new middle and high school is already under construction east of Hernando and south of Olive Branch.

DeSoto County property taxes increased slightly as a result of the bond issue.

More residents also flocked to the North Mississippi county in 2004, adding to DeSotos meteoric population growth. To help manage that growth, area officials are shoring up the countywide sewer system. The ongoing $100 million public works project is the largest in the countys history, and 2004 saw the project move ahead with construction of a new $13.6 million wastewater treatment plant east of Hernando.

Breaking ground. Jim McDougal, deputy planning director for DeSoto County, said 2004 was a year characterized by breaking new ground. He pointed to FedExs announcement of a nearly $60 million distribution hub in Olive Branch and the adoption of a comprehensive plan for DeSoto County that stretches to 2030.

Our growth continues to happen, McDougal said. We figure a kind of back-of-the-envelope estimate right now is that were in the 125,000 to 130,000 population range for the entire county, and thats up from 107,000 or 108,000 in 2000. Our building permits continue to break records, and we dont see any end in sight.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that DeSotos population increased by 16 percent in 2004. As a result, DeSoto County has been ranked No. 39 among the fastest-growing counties in the nation, said Vickie DuPree, executive director of the Olive Branch Chamber of Commerce. Factors driving continued interest in the county include low taxes and a good business environment, DuPree said.

McDougal said capital investment in the county remained high in 2004, and existing businesses and industries took advantage of DeSotos growth. With an expanding patient population, Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto began construction of a $175 million, 10-story bed tower that will include an expanded emergency department and space for future additions. Baptist-DeSoto opened in Southaven in 1988 and nearly doubled in size in 2001.

And Williams-Sonoma added 780,000 square feet of distribution space in Olive Branch, where the home products retailer already had more than 2 million square feet of space.

Legislative response. 2004 also saw a flurry of activity from DeSoto County legislators and developers in response to growth. The countys Board of Supervisors and other local officials drew up a wish list of items they want the Mississippi legislature to address, most of which deal with tax and revenue issues. Among the items was a push by DeSoto officials to redistribute casino revenues and to change the way the county gets money back from property taxes, as spelled out in the states Homestead Exemption provision.

David Armstrong, former DeSoto County administrator, said the county has not been receiving the full amount it is supposed to be getting under the law, which was drawn up to give eligible homeowners a reduction in property taxes.

In addition to those items, DeSotos legislative wish list included a proposal to allow voters to approve an optional sales tax in order to reduce the countys reliance on property taxes.

Crossing state lines. Last year also saw developers north of the Mississippi line casting more attention southward, and vice-versa. Mississippi developer Clay Lane moved forward with plans to convert 377 acres of farmland in Walls into a heavily landscaped neighborhood similar in concept to Harbor Town on Mud Island.

And a lot of developers from the Memphis and Germantown area are beginning to develop in DeSoto County, said Bill Russell, county supervisor for District 3. Thats just what we expect right now.

McDougal said another major development in the county in 2004 was the joint announcement by the Tennessee and Mississippi Departments of Transportation of the recommended route for Interstate 69. A nearly 30-mile section of the interstate will run east from the I-69/I-55 interchange and cut across state Highway 305 south of Olive Branch.

The completed I-69 will pass through eight states, including Tennessee and Mississippi, on its way from Canada to Mexico.


PROPERTY SALES 51 328 20,960
MORTGAGES 58 387 24,132
BUILDING PERMITS 170 842 43,435
BANKRUPTCIES 50 288 13,468