[This is a guest post from Rick Vanover, who usually writes for IT topics and will focus in on a very interesting situation going on in Ridgeland, Mississippi in the United States. Ridgeland is in the Jackson metropolitan area and has a very vocal opposition to a planned Costco site. I’ve got my regular monthly Locations Update coming next week.]
The Jackson area has been featured in a previous location update from Kimberly (of course!) but let’s take a look at where it is now. I noticed the opposition while randomly searching “Costco” on Twitter (reminder – follow us @Addicted2Costco) and found this story being discussed. This story is interesting, likely not entirely unique to any development endeavour, but with Costco central to the story; I took it upon myself to take a closer look.
The local opposition to the proposed Costco site
What I noticed was a Twitter account, @ProtectOurCity that was very active on discussions opposing the Costco location at a proposed property development locally known as Renaissance Phase 3. There is a first phase of this Renaissance series of developments that is already completed and is locally known as Renaissance at Colony Park. This retail development is something we’ve seen here in the United States pop up often. They have high-end retail shops; they are mostly outdoor spaces and have a modern twist on the retail experience that many cities have seen. I had an opportunity to do a phone interview with Bill May, a local resident who is opposed to development at the site. Bill also has over 3,000 concerned citizens signing his petition to the development. One of the important elements that Bill identified in the conversation was that this area, Ridgeland is the most affluent area of the state, yet Mississippi remains one of the poorest states.
At the start of the call, it was made clear by Bill that the issue isn’t with Costco. Additionally, there is a retired engineer, William Garbo whom is working with Bill to dispute the site location. In my opinion, anything that would be developed on this location would be disputed by the locals; the Costco development is the target however.
Let’s identify first what area we’re talking about. The image here shows the proposed location of the Costco warehouse in Ridgeland highlighted in green. Specifically the proposed location is at GPS coordinates: 32.423549, -90.147583. And it would have an address on Highland County Parkway, which would identify a few challenges with this location according to Bill. The first of those challenges are that access to the Costco warehouse would require most vehicles to go through a two lane European-style roundabout. Bill also says that Costco would draw between 6,000 and 8,000 vehicles per day. A recent Tweet from the ProtectOurCity account said that Ridgeland’s mayor says that semi-trucks would not be permitted in the roundabout. For the record, myself: I’m not a fan of roundabouts in the United States.
Another challenge that Bill identified is that because of the location that is proposed, the traffic to the Costco would have to use the Highland County Parkway infrastructure instead of any access roads aligned to the interstate.
The final major location challenge according to Bill is that there is a nature feature dissecting the Highland County Parkway in the form of the Natchez Trace; which is a historic 444 mile drive managed by the National Park Service that crossed through 3 states.
Bill also reports that the Mississippi Development Authority will divert $29.6 Million of tax revenue to the developers; which is alarming to the concerned citizens of one of the poorest states in the country.
As I wrapped up my conversation with Bill, he re-iterated that the dispute is only the location. With that information, I wanted to get in touch with the city and with Costco directly about the situation.
What does Costco say on this?
In a different conversation I had a phone interview with Dave Messner, VP of Real Estate for Costco. I sent a prepared set of questions based on my conversation with Bill from Ridgeland.
My previous work life comes in to play here as I’m preparing my questions and conversation for Dave. In fact, I did my (silly) top 5 dream jobs blogpost in 2012 and site selection engineer was the #5 spot! Going into the conversation with Dave I understand why Costco has identified Ridgeland.
Dave explained how Ridgeland is the geographic center of the Jackson metro area and there is a good economic base in the market, specifically with a state capital and a good medical industry in Jackson. Additionally, the retail stores in Renaissance 1 are in alignment with what a Costco membership base looks like.
Costco additionally has even gone to Jackson and got in front of the community to dispel any incorrect facts that maybe clouding judgement on the proposed development location from their perspective. Dave reports that traffic and crime are the top concerns of the locals; specifically noting that the traffic report for the location has not been completed.
When I asked Dave about the $29.6 Million diversion of tax revenue by developers, it was identified how all of the Renaissance phases (including the already completed areas) are part of this effort with state development officials that involve many more acres and plots than the Costco location. Dave also reported that Costco is very early on in the process and that there is no deal in place currently.
While this sum of money may seem like a lot to a general citizen, I challenge that this is being the “Business of Business” and asked if these situations and dollar amounts are common practice. In this line of business, this is a very normal practice and it varies from state to state, but it is a very common practice.
Let’s talk to the city of Ridgeland
A natural next side of the story is what the city has to say about the situation. I had a chance to speak with Alan Hart, Director of Community Development. I called asking a few specific questions and Alan spoke to me at length about the situation. The first question I had was if semi-trucks were prohibited in the European roundabout, and the answer is yes. This means that all excavation, construction and subsequent delivery traffic would use the “long” side of Highland County Parkway toward Interstate 220 to access the proposed site. This is not to say that people (including commercial drivers) won’t go through; the city police continue to enforce the roundabout as they have and will.
The other primary question I had was simply what is the city’s perspective on the proposed location, which would become Renaissance Phase 3? The answer was that the city is definitely interested in having a Costco warehouse in Ridgeland. Alan warns that the process is early along and no formal plans have been submitted for the official review process to this date.
Alan went on to say that there will eventually be some development in the proposed location where Costco is interested, it won’t remain open forever.
I spoke additionally to Alan about the traffic concerns. The traffic study is still being done and is paid for by the developer. There is specific focus to peak traffic times for the area which are around 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM; typical rush hour times.
In speaking with Alan he offered this rendering the city has for the proposed tract that would be where the Costco would be located, which would be 38 acres.
One additional question I asked was if Renaissance Phase 1 is a success, from a community development perspective for Ridgeland; the answer is pretty clear: “Phase 1 was a huge success for Ridgeland.”
My take on the situation
I think it was important to actively discuss all sides of the story in making an opinion on the proposed Ridgeland location. I reached out to them individually, and identified myself as writing this guest post here at AddictedToCostco.com. I was very thankful to each person who responded to my questions.
I think Bill’s most substantive argument is the roundabout, but honestly that’s nothing to do with Costco or any other subsequent development in this area. In fact, Highland County Parkway goes quite a long way so the development is far from over in the area. If the roundabout becomes a problem, this could easily be converted to a regular large intersection. Additionally, the traffic signage currently prohibits semi-trucks from using the roundabout.
The Natchez Trace and access roads are considerations, but not significant hurdles in my opinion. I would note that the traffic study would be interesting to see if it’s going to be a significant problem to the local area.
By way of experience, I work in an office building next to a large mall that has many similarities to the Ridgeland location (Columbus, Ohio Polaris fashion place, for any locals). We have a Costco next to the office. We have a Cabela’s. We have an indoor outdoor mall. We have a large regional interstate. We have developments on both sides with wide multi-lane roads paving the way for more retail and office. There are a lot of residences nearby also. We do have a traffic problem in this area, but only in December when retail sales are higher. This location that I work at takes a huge ingest of retail visitors but the work traffic plus any residential traffic remains generally in place. My 15-20 minute commute goes up by 10 or 15 minutes at the worst times (week or two before Christmas, the evening commute). I also live close to this development, so I have a generally informed opinion, however from a different market.
For the Ridgeland location, one of the frequent complaints from Twitter and from the recent town meeting that was held in Ridgeland is about crime. Crime at Costco is an odd objection. For one, the warehouse hours are very much in the daytime hours. Specifically, most US warehouses open no earlier than 9 AM and close by 8 PM on the weekdays and 6 PM on the weekends. There are occasional seasonal adjustments, however. Dave from Costco did confirm that there will be a gas station in the design should Ridgeland occur, which would partially extend these hours. Additionally, Costco themselves have advanced loss prevention practices that limit this risk. These include warehouse design having one entrance and exit, personnel staffing both directions of that exit, small or high-value items usually aren’t on shelves, cart-from-shopper separation at checkout and in some markets a required cart transfer to only have people leave with their paid merchandise on a cart they didn’t shop with. Personally, I’m not buying the crime angle.
With all of that being said, this area of Ridgeland was made for development. Costco brings good jobs to communities. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the US, and wouldn’t it be great if jobs arrived with opportunities that pay above average for the segment? Regarding the large amount of money that is slated to go to the development group, it may seem like a lot of money to the common citizen, but the reality is that these are indeed what I call big boy numbers, but it is commonplace for developments of this type and scope in the United States.
After having discussions with every side of the story I think Costco would be a good fit and hope that the city, developers and community can find a way to land a warehouse in Ridgeland.