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Supreme Court Denies Final Motion in Historic Preservation Case - Rehabilitation to Move Forward

 

After nearly four years of legal battles, including preservation efforts through the City Ordinances, the saga of 110/112 Leake Street in Olde Towne Clinton has come to an end.

On May 7, 2020, the Mississippi Supreme Court notified City Leadership that it had upheld the ruling of Hinds County Judge Larita Cooper-Stokes in favor of the City of Clinton vs Matt Wiggins.

Subsequent to the Supreme Court ruling, Matt Wiggins had one final avenue to challenge the ruling of Mississippi’s highest Court. In May, Wiggins filed a motion for rehearing before Mississippi’s Highest Court.

On August 13, 2020, the Court denied the motion for rehearing. Following three months of motions and counter motions, this decision exhausts all of Mr. Wiggin’s options for challenging the City of Clinton’s actions in Mississippi courts.

City officials have begun the process to facilitate rehabilitation of the historic properties and return them to commercial use, ensuring the commercial viability of Olde Towne Clinton for years to come.

City officials will work quickly over the next few weeks to advertise for Requests for Proposals (RFP) by developers to restore the properties and utilize them for commercial purposes.

“The City of Clinton and lovers of historic preservation have finally won a significant victory in the revitalization and preservation of historic Olde Towne Clinton. Mississippi,” stated Mayor Phil Fisher. “We will work quickly to return these building to the tax roll through renovation and development by a private entity.”

Background

The Hon. Larita Cooper-Stokes, Hinds County court judge, in a specially constituted Special Court of Eminent Domain, ruled on December 6, 2018: “That the City of Clinton shall be allowed to stabilize the economy of the commercial area with historic ramifications evidenced by the action of the governing authorities to enforce legislative code in special renewal districts, including the subject property at 110 and 112 Leake Street.”

Mayor Phil Fisher, who instituted the proceedings against Wiggins in order to preserve the historic integrity of Olde Towne, while providing additional space for retail opportunities in the historic core of Clinton was ecstatic regarding the ruling.

“This is an important day for our City and the efforts to bring Olde Towne Clinton to life. I am excited to have these buildings rehabilitated by a new owner who will bring a sales tax generating retail establishment to Olde Towne,” Mayor Fisher proclaimed. “For well over two decades, residents of Clinton have anguished over the neglect of two historic structures at 110 and 122 West Leake Street and end is now in sight.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution require a governmental entity to show a public purpose and provide just compensation for any taking of private property, which is referred to as “eminent domain.” The Urban Renewal Law for the State of Mississippi, used by the City in this proceeding, authorizes the use of eminent domain in connection with an Urban Renewal Plan and Project. In this instance, the City’s Plan focused on the continued preservation of structures in the Olde Towne Historic District.

The trial by jury, which concluded in December 2018, established just compensation for the City’s acquisition. Under the Urban Renewal Law, once this amount is paid, ownership transfers to the City. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the City of Clinton, City officials will make payment to take ownership of the property

The City will then follow a legal process to transfer ownership of the property for restoration consistent with the approved Urban Renewal Plan. City leaders have expressed a desire to sell the properties to the person or entity with the best plan for redevelopment and preservation of the two historical buildings.

A former Clinton resident, Wiggins, now a resident and member of the Water Association Board of Kemah, Texas, owns multiple properties in the Olde Towne area, but the two included in the recently adjudicated lawsuit were the historical buildings at the northeast corner of Jefferson and Leake Streets, which were once the site of Chilton’s store, where the assassination of pioneering black Clintonian, Senator Charles Caldwell, occurred December 27, 1875. It is one of the most well documented places in Clinton’s early history.

The City had argued that Wiggins failed to maintain his property, was demolishing the buildings by his own neglect and also failed to make required repairs to his property in keeping with the City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. The Olde Towne Clinton district is on the National Register of Historic Places and has numerous State and Local historical markers.