Desoto County News

Landers Center expansion discussions continue

Photo: DeSoto County Supervisors discuss the Landers Center expansion project with the architect and representatives of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and DeSoto Family Theatre on Monday, March 4. (Bob Bakken/  

Discussion on the Landers Center expansion project continued Monday, March 4, with the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors hearing from architect Doug Thornton, Michael Hatcher of the DeSoto County Convention and Visitors Bureau board, and Mat Lipscomb representing the DeSoto Family Theatre, along with Landers Center officials and Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite.  

The cost of the project, which is expected to include a larger convention center, relocation of the DeSoto Family Theatre, as well as a parking garage, continues to be a strong sticking point.  

With an original understanding the project cost was in the $70 million range, supervisors learned Monday what has been proposed now is in the range of $80 million and above, amounting to “sticker shock,” according to Supervisor Mark Gardner.  

“The latest conversation we had and as late as Friday I thought we were looking to build a $70 million project, and I walked in this afternoon and it’s the first I’ve heard it’s an $80-plus million project to build what’s there,” Gardner said. “That’s a major sticker shock to throw at us.”

Much of the discussion then centered on how the difference can be covered to meet what officials are looking for in a complex that would rival many of the top facilities in the state and region.  

The county’s portion of the project had committed a bond issue of $38.5 million. Gardner said he doesn’t see the county covering all of the new differences.  

“If the ask is $20 million more to get there, I doubt that’s going to happen,” said Gardner. “We’ve got roads to build and bridges to build. I, for one, would be willing to put up a certain amount of cash but we don’t have that amount of cash to put up $20 million. I don’t know if there’s any temperament toward increasing the bond, or if we even can.” 

Gardner did go on to say he sees a combination of borrowed money and cash possibly covering the difference. Michael Hatcher of the Convention and Visitors Bureau added some sale of property they have could also contribute. 

“It sounds close, but we have to figure out some combination of additional debt service and cash to make up this difference and I’m committed to make it happen,” Gardner said. 

Supervisor Ray Denison, another supporter of the expansion project, did warn that he needs to see a definite dollar figure before he would go forward with it.  

“If we can’t build what we want to build, I would just say, scrap the project right now,” Denison said. “Let’s find a good common number. I thought that was $70 million but now I find that was wrong. I don’t wanna build this thing if we can’t build it right.” 

Hatcher said he was hoping to move the project forward, seeing benefits for DeSoto County. 

“If we could get this thing moving, the synergy that it creates and the economic impact of this will carry more momentum for our initiative to Drive DeSoto, for the other projects and the other things that are going to come,” said Hatcher. “I’m a visionary.”

Another part of the conversation, although not directly tied to the expansion project, is the expected construction of an upscale seven-story Embassy Suites by Hilton hotel and upscale restaurant at the Landers Center site. Musselwhite said the hotel is on schedule to break ground in June. He hoped the expansion project was also moving forward at the same time.  

“We make smart financial decisions based on real numbers,” Musselwhite said. “But you can’t think of just today’s numbers. You have got to have the vision of seeing what this can become. This will change DeSoto County history in a positive way more than anything that any of y’all have done, or anything that I’ve done.”

It is expected further discussions will continue ahead of the Board of Supervisors’ next meeting when some decisions may take place.