Current city, casino agreement flawed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 24, 2010

Weeks after the Natchez Board of Aldermen first began asking whether or not the City of Natchez has an actual, signed and legally binding lease with a would-be casino developer, still no one is sure.

Much has changed since the original lease-option paperwork was signed in 2007.

The national economy hit a snag, the names of all of the developers seem to have changed, and the makeup of the board of aldermen is different, as is the mayor.

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The one thing that has remained constant is the undeveloped state of the city’s most prized possession — the Roth Hill riverfront property.

In the three years since the first lease-option was signed, the city has received nothing but promises, extension requests and excuses as to why not a single spade of dirt has been turned at the site.

While we certainly do not hold law degrees or have vast property leasing experience, our reading of the original lease-option agreement has one huge flaw — no timelines by which work must be done before the first lease payment is due to the city.

Essentially, it’s written in such a way that the group leasing the property doesn’t have to pay the city anything until a casino is operational on the site. If that’s the case — and if the lease-option was ever turned into an actual lease, the city would have leased the property for 50 years for the princely sum of $100,000, so long as no casino is put there.

We hope our interpretation is incorrect.

At the very least the city should walk away from the current arrangement.

If the group of developers is serious about putting something at the site, they should be happy to come back to the table to sign an actual lease with a deadline for construction of the casino or a contingency if none is built.