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VOL. 124 | NO. 6 | Friday, January 9, 2009

Local Developer Mixed Up In Pickwick Dispute

By Tom Wilemon

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A once-wooded site that was supposed to be a $4 million, 31-acre marina development on the Mississippi side of Pickwick Lake is now a red clay hill at the center of a federal lawsuit involving a Collierville resident and a contest for control of the Tennessee Valley Authority-owned land.

The trees were cleared two years ago, but the project was never built. The site was formerly a roadside park off Miss. 25 about two miles south of Aqua Yacht Harbor.

The original plans for the project included a marina with 228 boat slips, a fuel dock, dry-stack storage and rental cabins. The project was anticipated to cost about $4 million, according to press reports when it was announced in 2005.

David McMeans of Collierville, the developer of Pickwick Pines Resort, is in default on his sublease from the Tishomingo County (Miss.) Development Foundation, which, in turn, is in default on its lease from TVA, according to officials at the federal agency.

McMeans did not return phone calls from The Daily News.

Mike Tutor of Memphis, the president of Radians Inc. and the owner of Marine Sales of Pickwick, has approached the development foundation about taking over the project.

The particulars

Besides the uncertainty over control of the property, the shadow of a federal lawsuit is hanging over the project, filed by waterfront cabin owner and Memphian John Lichterman and others who own property nearby.

The cabin owners contend that TVA “has systematically approved the destruction and clear-cutting of trees in the protected buffer areas.”

U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in December 2007 ruled that a 100-foot buffer along the north end of the cove had been violated, but decided in favor of defendants TVA, the county development foundation and Pickwick Pines Marina Inc., on another buffer zone. The judge determined that a 50-foot shoreline management zone had not been violated.

The cabin owners have appealed the ruling from the federal court in Aberdeen, Miss., to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

McMeans’ company, Pickwick Pines Marina Inc., defaulted on sublease payments in August, and the county Development Foundation followed suit a few months later.

TVA was owed $121,000, which included deferred payments from 2006 and 2007, according to an investigation by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General. The TVA had allowed deferments and extensions through amendments to the lease.

The federal watchdog agency conducted the investigation “based on concerns expressed to the Office.”

The money is not the only reason that Pickwick Pines Marina and the Tishomingo County Development Authority (TCDF) are in default.

“According to the most recent amendment, TCDF shall have invested a minimum of $1 million for development of the site by June 30, 2008,” the report states. “Additionally, TCDF is to have completed and in operation prior to Dec. 31, 2008, (1) a restaurant, (2) six rental cabins, and (3) at least 100 slips in an operating marina. According to TVA personnel, the minium investment provision of the easement has not been met.”

On Aug. 26, the county development foundation sent Pickwick Pines a notice of default, stating the company had 30 days to remedy the defaults or the lease would be terminated, the report noted.

Pickwick Pines did not remedy the default. Last month, the development foundation, in turn, failed to make a lease payment even though the amount had been lowered.

Under an amended payment structure, there were to be two equal payments of $26,300 due Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

“There was a payment due date of Dec. 15, it is my understanding, and commitments were made to reconcile by Dec. 31,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for TVA. “That has not happened.”

The federal agency has made no decision on how it will handle the default, Allen said, and is “evaluating all options to determine how to proceed.”

Time for compromise

Gary Matthews, the executive director of the development foundation in Tishomingo County, said the organization is trying to work out an agreement with TVA.

“Hopefully by mid-February, we will know where we will be going,” Matthews said.

The development foundation is “looking at all options,” including bringing in another developer, Matthews said.

The officials are considering reimbursing McMeans for some of his expenses from the project. Tutor, who previously negotiated with McMeans about joining the project, submitted a letter of intent of his own after the negotiations faltered and McMeans went into default.

Tutor withdrew his letter of intent in December, but said he is still interested in taking over the project. However, he has told county Development Foundation officials that he will not reimburse McMeans.

“I have a lot of respect for the lake, the effect it’s had on my family and the people I know who go up there,” Tutor said.

He said he was aware of the federal lawsuit and disputes over what the federal permit allows.

“I certainly would do everything I could to help with the aesthetics of the lake,” Tutor said. “That’s half of the enjoyment of going up there. We would certainly make sure we followed the legal requirements of the permit.”

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