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Big Yank Building Could Become Education Hub

The city-owned building on Central Street previously housed Big Yank Corporation until the company closed the location in 1991. With only limited use for storage, the building has deteriorated during the last quarter-century.

By David Howell


WATER VALLEY – The long abandoned city-owned Big Yank building on Central Street could be converted to a 70,000 square feet educational hub after aldermen voted to take initial steps to deem the property surplus and transfer ownership to Base Camp Coding Academy. The deal is contingent on a Herculean effort that will be headed by Base Camp to put together a multi-million dollar funding package from outside sources to renovate the building for classroom use by both Base Camp and Northwest Mississippi Community College.

“Try it,” Ward 2 Alderman Fred White said, a sentiment shared by other aldermen in a unanimous 4-0 vote in last Tuesday’s meeting following an overview of the project by Ward One Alderman Kagan Coughlin, who explained the fundraising is doable but difficult.

As co-founder and board member of Base Camp, a small computer programming school currently located on Main Street, Coughlin abstained from voting on the decision for a potential property transfer from the city to the school. He also explained that although dilapidated, the building has several advantages.

“The Big Yank building has a few things going for it. It is a contributing historic building for our downtown, so it is eligible for federal and state (historic) tax credits. It is eligible for New Market Tax Credits. There are several organizations in the State of Mississippi that have offered to help Base Camp grow. When we told them this might be a possibility, they said we would like to help that happen,” Coughlin told aldermen.

He explained it will take $1.2 million just to get the building weather tight with new windows, roof and air conditioning along with asbestos cleanup. 

Coughlin also explained that both Base Camp and Northwest are non-profit organizations that do not have money to put in the building renovations.

“We have been dreaming about this, but there are some deadlines coming up. The New Market Tax Credits, their deadlines to get in the game are closing this summer. These are dollar figures that you need some help to make them all work out. For any of these programs, the grant money or the low interest loans that might make this happen, the property either needs to be leased for 65 years or it needs to be owned by a non-profit organization,” Coughlin explained. In addition to funding from private companies, Coughlin said money may be available from  the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

Along with Coughlin, Mayor Donald Gray and Board of Supervisors President Cayce Washington also shared enthusiasm for the project at the meeting.

“If y’all have been in it, you know it is in a state of disrepair right now,” Gray said about the Big Yank building, adding that the city does not have the funds to maintain the building.

“I see it as a win-win for our city,” Gray also said about the deal.

“I am overjoyed with the idea that we could take a building that served this community so well for so many years and fed so many families could be transcended to something that already has a track record of producing opportunities for students to go out into the work force with zero debt,” Washington added.

Both Washington and Gray noted Northwest has expressed a strong interest to find space in Yalobusha County to provide trade programs.

“That was icing on the cake, in my opinion,” Washington added. 

The Property Transfer

City Attorney Daniel Martin outlined the state statute that gives the city authority to transfer the building to a non-profit, explaining that aldermen have the discretion to donate the property to a bona fide, non-property educational corporation. Martin also explained that the transaction is required to have a revision clause, which means that if it ever ceases to be used as a school for two years, it will come back to the city.

“In essence we are not giving it up at all, we are giving them a chance to have it and make something, and if it doesn’t, it will come back to us,” Martin explained about the transaction.

About Base Camp

Base Camp is a year-long program that started in 2016 and is designed to train students to be software developers in a small class-room setting. The school is currently located in the second floor of the Main Street B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery.  Washington’s reference of no debt for Base Camp students refers to the policy that all students who attend the school receive a 100 percent scholarship.

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