COLUMBUS, Miss. (Press Release) - The two-year dream of bringing life to an abandoned 60-year-old Columbus school took a step closer to reality early Tuesday. In a unanimous vote, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History designated the site of Lee Middle School as a Mississippi Historic Landmark.
Today’s decision and last week’s action by the Columbus Planning Commission and the Columbus City Council to rezone the property on Military Road as C-1, helps move the project ahead to convert the site into a new mixed use facility.
“This is spectacular news,” said John Acker, the chairman of the Columbus Redevelopment Authority. “We have a developer that said these two actions were needed to get historic preservation tax credits for costs of rehabilitation and we have done that. This is not a done deal yet, but we are much closer than ever before.”
The identity of the developer has not yet been announced, but previous information said the site would be made into a commercial operation containing retail and entertainment spaces, as well as loft apartments.
The Columbus Redevelopment Authority was established in 2014 Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and the City Council. Its first Board members were appointed by Mayor Smith. Members of the Authority are John Acker, Chairman, Tommy Lott, Jr., Mark Castlebury, Robert Rhett, and Marthalee Porter.George Irby serves as its Executive Director. The group is charged with redeveloping blighted areas into tax-generating properties that benefit Columbus.
Nancy Carpenter, a member of the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Executive Director of the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, made the motion for the designation at the Tuesday morning meeting of the state group.
With the historic designation, the developer can claim up to a 45 percent historic preservation tax credit on money spent on the rehabilitation portion of the project.
“A lot of people have worked to get us this close, and now we are ready for the final steps,” said Acker. The option on the sale of the property runs until June 30, 2018. Acker hopes to close the deal before that date.
The school closed its doors in 2011. It was built as Lee High School in the 1950s and later converted to a middle school before being closed. It includes a separate gymnasium, commercial kitchen, cafeteria, auditorium and classrooms.