Base Camp Plans To Purchase Building
By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – City aldermen voted unanimously during a special meeting on Jan. 11 to authorize Mayor Donald Gray to obtain a commercial appraisal on the city-owned Big Yank building in anticipation of selling the property to Base Camp Coding Academy. The discussion of an outright sale of the 70,000 square-foot building is a reversal from a decision last May by aldermen to declare the building as surplus and donate it to Base Camp and came at the request of Base Camp co-founder Glen Evans.
Evans told aldermen it would be beneficial for Base Camp to purchase the building as it will likely be used as collateral for financing a portion of the $4.7 million project to convert the 70,000 square foot building from a long abandoned garment factory into an educational hub and business incubator.
“There would be a right of reversion to the city should Base Camp not use the property,” Evans explained about the earlier deal to donate the building. “We will have some sort of financing package, through a tax credit structure or bank financing, or both, which will have a lender involved. The lender obviously wants to be in that first lien position.”
He also recommended that the city make the sale an open public bid, which would make the transaction transparent.
“We feel like it is in the best interests of the city to get the property appraised so there is full understanding of the potential value of the property,” City Attorney Daniel Martin added, before the 4-0 vote in favor of the appraisal. Ward One Alderman Kagan Coughlin recused himself from the discussion and vote, as he serves on the Base Camp Board of Directors.
History of Base Camp
Base Camp started in 2016 in the second floor of Main Street’s BTC building as an academy to train students to be software programmers. The non-profit academy that provides under-advantaged youth with fast-paced, focused, vocational training in computer programming will graduate its third class of students in May. Students spend 40 hours per week in the 12-month course as they embark on an intense journey to transition to job-ready programmers just a year after graduating from high school. The program helps address a severe shortage in the job market, as each year Mississippi has 1,200 unfilled computing jobs and less than 200 computer science graduates, according to the Base Camp website, https://basecampcodingacademy.org.
The non-profit organization is sponsored by regional corporate and philanthropic partners including the most recent announcement that Morgan White Group (MWG) will join the growing list of supporters. MWG agreed to participate in the one-time capital funding campaign for the building renovation, and also in the ongoing operating support for the center. MWG will also join other corporate sponsors in providing mentorship and job shadowing opportunities for Base Camp’s students.
Coughlin said that work is underway by Base Camp to raise $2 million for the renovation. He also identified other sources to tackle the $4.7 million renovation that includes new market tax credits as well as historic renovation tax credits, which are eligible because the building is included in the city’s historic district. He also said work is underway to apply for grants from multiple organizations including USDA, ARC, DRA and TVA that could provide 10 percent of the funding.
Coughlin added that the property is also listed as a brownfield due to a decades-old environmental contamination in the soil from adjacent property that formerly housed a dry cleaners operation. The listing could allow the organization to apply for Brownfield redevelopment funds geared to help redevelop vacant and unused properties.
The classroom space at the Big Yank building will also be utilized by Northwest Mississippi Community College (NWCC), another Base Camp partner that has committed to provide adult education classes and workforce training that would be separate from support already provided for Base Camp’s computer programming academy.
“We are proud of our partnership with Base Camp,” NWCC President Dr. Michael J. Heindl reported in a trip to the county last July as he stressed the need for more adult education classes in Yalobusha County.
Coughlin told the Herald the new facility could open as soon as January 2020 with an expanded vision from the original educational hub to also include space dedicated to technology partners for satellite offices and other tenants similar to a business incubator.