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Cooper pulls plug on Meridian

By Staff
DASHED HOPES – Mayor John Robert Smith announced plans for a $35 million retirement development by Cooper Communities Inc. in December. On Monday, nearly 10 months later, Cooper abandoned the project. Photo illustration by Janet McDonald/The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
Oct. 8, 2002
Cooper Communities Inc. of Arkansas abandoned plans Monday to build a $35 million retirement development in southeast Meridian that city leaders had hoped would lure new residents and businesses.
The company, which has similar residential developments in Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia and South Carolina, cited a slumping national economy as the reason for canceling the Meridian project.
Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith, pale and with his shoulders slumping in a blue sport coat, looked exhausted as he listened to Cooper officials explain their reasons for leaving.
Plans change
Smith faced reporters in the same City Hall room where nearly 10 months ago he and Cooper officials unveiled plans for an up-scale, gated community on 1,314 acres of city land near Long Creek Reservoir.
Copper officials said then they would build 3,000 new homes, build two new championship golf courses and lure thousands of retirees from all over to Meridian.
Cooper planned to refurbish the city's Lakeview Golf Course, making it a private championship course. In return, the company planned to build the city a new $2.5 million course near Bonita's upper-lake and U.S. 45.
Economic development officials said the new community would have helped them market Meridian to prospective industries.
City work
Cooper's announcement on Monday came just days after Meridian officials received a 33-page contract from the company.
City officials had been working feverishly behind-the-scenes for months trying to hash out a contract in hopes of beginning construction on the project next spring.
So far, the city has spent $4,769.71 in legal expenses associated with the project and in negotiating the contract.
The city also announced plans earlier this year to build an intersection on U.S. 45 that would have provided access from the highway to both the Cooper project and the new city golf course.
Meridian officials planned to tap a $10 million line of credit to fund construction of the interchange. With Cooper's announcement, plans are uncertain about the future of the interchange.
Meridian project
In the end, Cooper officials abandoned the Meridian project because they didn't believe they could market the site to retirees in a time of financial uncertainty.
John Cooper III said the weak economy has made his company consider tough decisions including whether to develop residential areas or combination residential-and-business projects.
Cooper said the Meridian project was the only development in Cooper Land that was near construction. Many others, he said, are further along and will continue.
Next step
Even though Cooper said things look gloomy now, the company won't rule out the possibility of reconsidering a development project in Meridian sometime in the future.
Until then, Smith said he and other city officials will begin to determine how they can develop the property.