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Assistance for Iron Horse project OK’d

JRA to issue $2.5M in notes to boost $7M restoration

The group behind the redevelopment of Iron Horse Grill finally has a definitive deal with the Jackson Redevelopment Authority for financial assistance for the project after several months with just an agreement in principle.

The agreement, approved by JRA on Wednesday, could mean work on the $7 million restoration of the building, closed since 1999 after two fires, could start as soon as the middle of next month, says lead developer Joseph Simpson.

JRA will issue $2.5 million in urban renewal notes to help finance the project. The city of Jackson has agreed to backstop the notes. Project developer The Simpson Group is guaranteeing the loan 100 percent and will receive up to $1.5 million in new-market tax credits to go with the JRA contribution and its own money that’s gone to restoring the building.

“We’ve officially, finally, gotten this done,” Simpson said, adding his group aims to close on the tax credits in mid-October, which would allow construction to begin. The agreement in principle was reached last spring, and developers wanted to secure the tax credits before signing a final agreement, he said. “It’s a brand that’s well-established. We just have to execute it.”

Once the credits are in hand, the urban renewal notes will be issued.

The new restaurant will keep the Iron Horse Grill name. Some 10,000 square feet will be added to the original, 7,500-square-foot structure, which will be rehabilitated.

The building also will be the new home of the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame, currently located at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport. The Mississippi Blues Trail headquarters also will be based there. The restaurant site is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Jackson City Council in July approved backstopping the JRA notes.

“We think it’s a great project. The developers’ finances have been vetted. We’re comfortable (moving forward),” said Jackson city spokesman Chris Mims. He said the restaurant not only will draw city residents, people from surrounding counties and out-of-town visitors but also will serve as an attraction for people taking part in events at the Jackson Convention Complex.

JRA’s board voted 5-0 to approve issuing the notes. Abstaining were Brian Fenelon, who works with Simpson at a financial-services company, and Ronnie Crudup, who serves on an advisory board for a company involved with the tax credits.

In a separate vote, JRA approved new guidelines for presenting development proposals to the agency.

Developers first will have to pitch their ideas to JRA executive director Jason Brookins. If he feels the idea is doable, he’ll bring it to the JRA board and, if city financial assistance is needed, the mayor’s office. Developments will then be sent to the agency’s projects committee for a recommendation, which would be voted on by the board.

JRA board member John Reeves wanted a firm policy in place after a developer last year unexpectedly showed up at an agency meeting, wanting to sell JRA an abandoned hotel property in south Jackson. The agency declined.

Now, “It’s all on the front side. Everyone knows what the rules are,” Reeves said.

Written by Jeff Ayres | Clarion Ledger

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