Land for proposed site not Copeland’s

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 7, 2009

VIDALIA — A company in which the mayor and a city employee have ownership stakes does not own the site under consideration for a proposed new municipal complex in Vidalia.

“That (would be) a direct conflict of interest,” Mayor Hyram Copeland said. “I am not that stupid.”

The proposed site — which was unofficially announced Wednesday — is behind Kaiser’s truck stop on U.S. 84, adjacent to the property that will eventually become the new Recreation District No. 3 recreation complex.

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Since then, some have questioned why that location is being considered and whether BCHT, LLC., has a stake in that property.

BCHT is the company Copeland, Riverfront Administrator H.L. Irvin, former state representative Bryant Hammett and local businessman Mark Weems Taunton formed to buy a 33-acre tract of land near then newly-constructed Walmart in 2006.

The BCHT tract borders U.S. 84 across from Walmart, and its boundary on one side is the property on which Weeks Furniture sits. The other boundary is Logan Sewell Road.

Aside from the conflict of interest, Copeland said the city couldn’t afford the asking price for the BCHT property.

“We paid $50,000 an acre for that property,” Copeland said. “At that time, we set a Concordia Parish record for what we paid.”

The 10-acre tract under consideration is located on the Charles Johnson property, and the asking price for it is $17,000 per acre, the same price the city paid for its share of the acreage that will become the recreation complex, Copeland said.

That location is being considered primarily because of its price and because it is what is available, he said.

“If you ride up and down Vidalia, there isn’t any property left,” Copeland said. “If someone has a suggestion for another location, I’d like to hear it. If they can find a better location for a better price, I am open to suggestions.”

The available property near the existing city hall is split into two portions and would cost almost half a million dollars to buy, Copeland said.

The proposal for the new municipal complex — which would include incorporating the police and fire departments into the building — came after it was discovered that city hall was infested with black mold.

The requirements the city would have to meet for asbestos mitigation significantly drove the price of remodeling up to almost $140 a square foot.

Police and fire officials said they have run out of room for expanding their already crowded departments.

The proposed complex will cost an estimated $3.5 to $4 million.

The Vidalia Board of Aldermen will discuss the proposed municipal complex at their meeting Tuesday, and Copeland said he welcomed any questions.