How “public purpose” should be defined under Mississippi’s urban renewal laws is a question Hinds Chancery Judge Michael Singletary is thinking over.

The question is at the heart of a challenge to the use of tax dollars as collateral for loans on a Westin hotel planned for downtown Jackson.

In a hearing before Singletary April 9, lawyers for the City of Jackson argued the state’s urban renewal laws allow a “public use” designation to be put on deals that have public backing for a private project in a redevelopment zone. The potential benefit the hotel provides to the goal of restoring a blighted area gives the project its public purpose, city lawyers said.

Hence, the City can allocate $10 million in general fund money to the JRA to back revenue bonds for the hotel, they said.

Singletary scheduled the hearing after Jackson real estate developer Don Hewitt challenged the arrangement the City made with the JRA for providing $10 million in bond support to Capital Hotels Associates, a group of investors who plan to build the 204-room Westin with a redevelopment zone at 315 Tombigbee St. Singletary has promised to rule promptly.

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