Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Harborwalk Hoax?

I drove around the parking lot of the so called Harborwalk recently. Ladies and Gentlemen, this project as advertised to us is dead. kaput. finis. no more. Except for one crane, there is NO construction equipment in the area. There are no building materials. Where the Dock once was is now only water. You can see the original floor of the Millennium in the parking lot. Where the sounds of laughter, merriment, and people having fun echoed through the harbour, there is now the quiet, eerie lapping of the water against the banks of the Ross Barnett Reservoir. The only development that has taken place is the trailer that says Harborwalk on the front.

This could only happen in Mississippi. What could be the crown jewel of the Jackson Metro area is instead represented by a single-wide trailer. And people wonder why Mississippi is considered to be a redneck state.

After reading through all the news stories and Burwell's claims, anything the developer says at this point is not credible. We were sold a bill of goods by a paper tiger and some government officials who salivated at the prospect of getting rid of a bar and creating the Ross Barnett Riviera. I am somewhat infuriated as I am watching an area that could benefit the whole community if developed properly instead has become a joke along with Kountry Tyme, The Beef Plant, and other ventures that looked good like a hussy at 2 AM on a Friday night at Jackson City Limits who instead turned out to be a toad with warts.

The Dock was the largest non casino account for the tax commission. However, the city of Ridgeland got what it wanted, which was the abolition of the Dock. Such is the nature of progress in Mississippi that we tear down a popular nightclub and replace it with.....nothing. I think that single wide trailer is the only high-rise development you will see at Main Harbour as long as Mr. Burwell is responsible for its development.

In case you think I am being too harsh, look at how the story regarding Harborwalk has changed over the last 3 years.

This is one of the early stories on Harborwalk in the Clarion-Ledger: (December 11, 2003)

The Clarion-Ledger reported:
"Hundreds of condominiums, hotel rooms, specialty shops and restaurants could deck part of the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Madison County, if a local developer can get his way.
John Burwell, a reservoir resident and founder, principal investor and manager of Main Harbor Development, and John Hannigan, project manager for the development from Bethesda, Md., will present their master plan for Harbor Walk, a multi-phase development, to members of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District Shoreline Committee today. The first phase is expected to cost $50 million to $60 million

"Phase I of the multi-phased development would create about 456,000 square feet of retail, office and living space along Harbor Drive on the west side of the marina, all facing the water, Burwell said. At least four restaurants are included in that first phase.
Between 120 and 130 condominiums are envisioned for this phase. Housed in two six-story buildings, each would average about 2,000 square feet. Another building would hold 75,000 square feet of office space.
A fourth building would include additional office or condo and retail space, depending on demand in the marketplace, Burwell said.
The first floors of all four buildings and all subsequent buildings would be composed of retail /restaurant space.".......

"Phase II calls for amenities such as a specialty grocery store, bakery, laundry and similar services along Harbor Drive for locals and guests.
This phase of development also includes a six-story, 200-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of meeting space, more retail and parking.
An open-air plaza would lie between the hotel and the waterfront, he said.
The remaining phases of the development would mirror the first phase, with construction dependent on market demand, Burwell said.
Banking on the attraction of the waterfront, Burwell said he hopes vendors will step up to offer such services as water taxis to ferry people not only across the marina, but also to Lost Rabbit, the Yacht Club, and other subdivisions connected by water.
He's also hoping to attract entertainment acts and festivals to fill numerous stages around the marina, all connected by a boardwalk that would tie into existing hiking and biking trails around the reservoir."

Reading this story one must wonder when the Clarion-Ledger started publishing fiction. It all sounds great but after three years, nothing has happened. In fact, one thing I have noticed in this news story (in a case of very sloppy reporting) is that no one from the newspaper confirmed with Valencia Hotels their plans to place a hotel in the Harborwalk development. There was also no confirmation or reporting of actual restaurants or other vendors. The reporter simply accepted the developer's word as proof.

However, the key figure here at this point is $50-60 million as the amount of money needed for phase I.

Then The Mississippi Business Journal published the following news:

Headline News
Harbor View offers view from Web cam
February 28, 2006RIDGELAND —
Construction progress on the Harbor Walk development on the Ross Barnett Reservoir can now be viewed in real time via a Web cam on the construction site. The camera can be found in the picture section of the Web site,

John Burwell of Harbor Walk said, "Harbor work has been underway for a few months now. The new piers are a floating pier design, complete with a community deck, which will be one slip that's been decked out and covered with a canopy. The community deck will have restrooms, a place to put garbage, a storage area and the electrical and mechanical equipment for the pier. The majority of the area will be set for a community gathering place for the boat owners. Each of the slips will have water, sewer and technology for communication."Dirt work has begun on the development's 10-acre parking garage. Construction is slated to begin soon on Harbor Station, located across the marina from the phase one condominiums. Harbor Station will be a fueling facility for boats, and will also house convenience, retail and dockside cafe.

"Development of phase one is right on target," Burwell said. "The first phase of development represents a $225-million investment with approximately one million square feet of residential, commercial, hotel and office space."Harbor Walk is a $750-million, four-million-square-foot mixed-use construction venture on 100 acres of waterfront property on the Ross Barnett Reservoir. The design of the community will be based upon an urban harbor town. "

The Northside Sun reported on July 20, 2006:
( that the centerpiece of the development would be a four-star Valencia Hotel. No confirmation was made with Valencia in the story.Later, in July 7, 2006, WLBT reported that Harborwalk was NOT in financial trouble ( ):

"The developer of Harbor Walk at the Barnett Reservoir near Jackson says he has been the victim of Internet rumors spread by two people. John Burwell admits he has had a hard time raising money for the billion dollar development, but says he has been able to do it so far, and the project is continuing. He admits he has run into some unexpected delays, like not getting power for a new houseboat pier until crews were finished with Hurricane Katrina repairs and having to build a new uniform sea wall to protect the levees in the old Main Harbor Marina. Burwell says he is still on track for a four star Valencia Hotel.

There have been some suggestions on the Internet that he has run out of money and people are upset because a road in the area was closed prematurely. He admits the road mistake. He also says he is changing bookkeepers and some of his bills may not have been paid on time."

Blame it on the bookkeepers and the Internet for not being able to pay his bills on time. But don't worry, this project is still going forward even though he has a "hard time" raising money for the project. Hmmm....I wonder why.

However, last summer, he told Madison County Herald that:
"In July, Burwell told The Madison County Herald that he had received a $182 million construction loan document for Harbor Walk from a Memphis-based firm.
"That never came together," Burwell said this week.'

source: (April 18, 2007)

Earlier in the story it is reported that:
"John Burwell, developer for Harbor Walk, insists the project is not stalled and said he is working to secure funding.
"Anyone who's tried to get $190 million knows it's not a quick process," he said. "We are moving right along and gearing up to get started."
That $190 million is for the first phase, which includes retail and office space, a hotel and condominiums."

$50, $190, $195 million, who's keeping score? Its only money. Notice this is 2 1/2 years after The Dock has been torn down at this point. For this period of time, there is STILL no evidence of construction on the project. No building materials, no heavy construction equipment, nothing.

However, do not fear, Bumbling Burwell will not give up in his quest to create the Ross Barnett Riviera.

"A Harbor Walk developer said he still needs an additional $195 million before he can begin construction on the project.

John Burwell, a principal of Main Harbor Development, said he is presently searching for a lender to finance the first phase of construction of his portion of the $1 billion Harbor Walk project.

Without these funds, Burwell will not be able to proceed with the project as planned, although he said they now have several leads."We've got to find a bank, an insurance company, or somebody to loan us [the money]," said Burwell.

"We've talked to people all over the country. This is too big for any local (lender)."Harbor Walk, located on Ross Barnett Reservoir, plans to feature a variety of lodging and retail space. Phase I includes the 200-room Hotel Valencia, a condominium, office space, restaurants, and boutiques.

This phase was scheduled to be completed this spring, but the lack of money has delayed the project.Burwell said that despite the need for funds, he remains optimistic about the prospects for Harbor Walk. He said that he still wants it to stand out and be unique among other developments in the area."We want to build something world-class," he said.

Burwell said that even if the $195 million does not materialize, he will still be able to develop the property in some fashion. He said that the property is too valuable to simply abandon."We'll build something," he said. "That land is too valuable. I could begin construction today, [and] I've got people who want to buy it now."

Mayor Gene McGee said he too remains optimistic, and understands that a project of this size can take some time to bring about."I'm anxious for the project to move forward, [but] I'm still optimistic," said McGee. "I think a project of this magnitude takes time."

Benny French, executive director of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, which is leasing the land to Burwell, said Burwell is still keeping up with end of the agreement and making his payments on time. French said they continue to wish Burwell the best on his project, as they remain hopeful that it will be completed."We continue to hope that he'll be able to pull it off," said French.

Burwell said $19 million has already been put into the first phase to fund preliminary work, this including money out of his own pocket. Some old piers on the reservoir have also been demolished and new ones built, but beyond that, construction has not begun."

The often-touted Valencia Hotel? Well, the April 2007 CL story above says that:

"As for businesses coming to Harbor Walk, Burwell said Jeff Rawson, director of finance for the Valencia Group, is supposed to come to Ridgeland next week to meet with him about a proposed nine-story Hotel Valencia at the site.
An executive assistant with the Valencia Group would not confirm the meeting. She said there had been some talk of coming to Jackson but no flights had been booked as of Tuesday.
Burwell said the hotel project will be funded by the company that develops the hotel independently.
Plans call for the proposed four-star hotel to be located on the south end nearest Lake Harbour Drive.
The Valencia Group representative would not confirm by phone Tuesday that Harbor Walk is still a prospective location for a new hotel."

What a surprise. For years we hear that Valencia will place a hotel in the development. Of course, the source was Burwell. When contacted, Valencia will contradicts Burwell on a supposed meeting and won't confirm any plans to place a hotel at Harborwalk. How many years has Burwell been saying that a Valencia Hotel was going to be the centerpiece of Harborwalk? He made a sensational claim about having them in his development but until now, no one bothered to contact (very sloppy reporting and very sloppy work by the appropriate government officials) Valencia and when they were contacted, they didn't give the same story that Burwell had been telling us all these years.

His story has also changed several times on the matter of how much money he needs for phase I of the project. Instead of the original $50 or so million for phase I, now he needs $195 million. He does have some leads he says. So let me get this straight. The Main Harbor Marina, place that was the scene of much fun and recreation over the past few decades in Jackson, has been torn down by some slick developer who sold everyone on the idea that he would create a Riviera on the Ross Barnet Reservoir (chuckle). The amount of money he claims he needs for phase one quadruples. He claims to have investors in the beginning. Then they disappear. Then he claims to have a document for a construction loan of $195 million but never produces proof that he does and later says it didn't come together and now says he is looking for financing for Harborwalk.

The point is, this Mr. Burwell keeps changing his story. It is not an Internet rumor as he puts it. The Internet is not the one that has no financing. The Internet doesn't claim to have a construction loan and then admit it does not exist. The Internet isn't the one who admitted to not always paying the bills on time. The Internet did not take over a tract of land, bamboozle the government into spending $2 million on a road project, then drag its feet on the project. We've gone from internet rumors to um, well, we might not get the money after all but we'll still have a helluva development out there. right.

What probably happened is Mr. Burwell got in over his head and thought he would be able to easily attract financing for such a project and then found out otherwise. No one has ever gotten the names of potential tenants from him, save Valencia, and they have yet to confirm that there will be a Valencia Hotel built in the development.

Feel free to drive out there and look at the site for yourself.

Also feel free to compare it to the illustration of what it is supposed to look like at

Note: My apologies to you for the length of this post. I was forced to post the actual articles of stories instead of links as in several cases, the links had ceased to function due to the age of the articles cited.

Here is also a discussion on Harborwalk that is pretty good at The Jackson Free Press website:


Anonymous said...

Great post. If only the media would devote the same sort of time and effort, we might not have to keep paying for meat processing plants from my tax money.

Cliffnotes from the Classroom said...

I'm not even from the Jackson area and it made me sick when I learned that The Dock was being closed. I had friends who lived at the Res and we used to go there just to hang out and enjoy the atmosphere. Sad that such a great place had to be demolished so prematurely. Great job, "Bumbling Burwell". I strongly agree with Catfish on this one. Oh, and by the way, great post!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Gene McGee and his DUI THUG Police need to go too.

bob mc alister said...

perhaps we should all get together , form our own development LLC, apply to the locals for eminent domain proceedings, secure the property with little or no down payment, get a little 12 million dollar loan, bebuild the dock , and add a little apartment/comdp area, refinance the deal out, take the 20 million from the refi, build more stuff, and continue....

Susan said...

In your rant, you said "no one from the newspaper confirmed with Valencia Hotels their plans to place a hotel in the Harborwalk development." Actually, I wrote a series of press releases for Harbor Walk, and I sat down one afternoon with the president of the Valencia Hotel Corp. and they had every intention of building the hotel at Harbor Walk at the time.

Kingfish said...

intention is not the same as confirming they were going to build there. The fact is, when the media did call them for confirmation, they refused to comment one way or the other and Burwell never offered any real proof.

What has been done to the Reservoir is a travesty on both sides of the lake.

Anonymous said...

Con game is the correct term. This has O chance of being built. Also the City of ridgeland had to repay a milliom plus grant to built the road.

Kaiser Sosae said...

The only way to make this a great investment, that will make tons and tons of money for the City of Ridgeland, is to build about 6 twenty story hotels and have huge casinos on the first 3 floors of each one of them. This would also bring in restaurants, elite shopping stores, and other great businesses.
But do not look for Gene to support this. He will be to afraid to loose the southern babtist and methodist vote.
However, the tax revenues from this would be astronomical, and burwell would have no problems finding investers for this.

Anonymous said...

Ya think the dept. Of tourism would have anything to say about this? The dock was a major attraction for ms! Burwell is still intent on destroying any remnant of the piers owned by the deweeses! The city of ridgeland, under a cloak of religion, has been corrupt for decades. I say give the lease back to deweese, and let them rebuild!

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing ads all over the place ...Mississippi Magazine, and all the local papers, saying that a condominium with 59 units will be completed in Spring of 2014? Is that accurate? Is something actually going to be built out there?

CFI/MEI 9000 said...

Sounds like the wool got pulled over the eyes of Gene McGee and everyone else by a slick con man!

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