More Room At the Inn | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

More Room At the Inn


Ryan Warren is the general manager of the Sleep Inn & Suites, which opened in Jackson the same day developers floated another downtown hotel proposal.

While plans for a convention-center hotel remain in limbo, downtown Jackson is seeing plenty of hotel development on a smaller scale. Last week, a team of developers that included several Jackson businessmen presented the Jackson Redevelopment Authority with their vision for a 100- to 130-room hotel and residential building at Court and Lamar streets.

The group includes businessmen Dean Blackwell and Socrates Garrett, along with Atlanta-based developer Roger Landry. Landry told the Jackson Free Press that construction on the $18 million to $20 million project could start within 12 months.

Total construction costs will vary depending on the building's height. Landry envisions the hotel rising four to five stories above a three-story condominium complex.

Landry said the group has selected an Ohio-based hotel operator but has not settled on a hotel brand. The planned hotel only represents 30 percent of the group's property in the Jackson area and is a "phase one" development, adding that he hoped to see subsequent phases follow the hotel.

"It's hard to visualize right now, but I really think in the next 10, 15 years—with the convention center, the museum, the federal building—all that's going to become real viable," Landry said. "Midtown Atlanta, 20 years ago, was just like what downtown Jackson looks like (now)."

The three-story apartment complex would consist of between 10 and 20 "live-work condos" for sale or long-term lease aimed at attorneys and other professionals with work nearby. A market study will help determine the appropriate number of condominiums and their amenities, he said. The building may also include restaurant and retail space.

Parking for hotel patrons could combine with a parking garage planned for the federal courthouse, said JRA Executive Director Jason Brookins. The resulting 300-space parking garage would offer between 100 and 120 spaces for hotel patrons, leased to the hotel, with the remainder going to courthouse employees and visitors, along with other commuters.

"If we just built the hotel with a flat, surface parking lot, we could," Landry said. "That would be a no-brainer. But the city needs parking downtown."

The JRA board approved negotiations with the group's attorney, Sam Begley, to craft a public-private partnership laying out the two parties' intentions. Supporting a parking garage would be a logical step for the authority, Brookins noted, because JRA currently owns and operates three parking garages downtown. Parking garages are more conducive to urban development than the surface lots that dot much of downtown.

"The more we can get a denser footprint, the better off we are," Brookins said, adding that a parking garage typically costs $12,000 per space to build, giving the new proposed garage a $3.6 million price tag.

Sleep Inn Opens
The LEAD Group, a Jackson-based team of 12 African American investors, completed its first development Dec. 16 with the opening of a Sleep Inn & Suites in downtown Jackson. The 67-room hotel is located between Pearl, Pascagoula and Gallatin streets, where investors hope it will attract visitors from downtown and Jackson State University.

The group received $2 million in federal Recovery Zone Facility Bonds from the Hinds County Board of Supervisors to complete the $4.7 million project.

LEAD Group member Robert Gibbs said that the group would like to buy properties adjacent to the Sleep Inn but is not making firm commitments, yet, because of the time it took to complete the hotel. Work began in June 2009 but stopped early this year when the group had to find new financing after missing a December 2009 deadline for finishing construction. The group already owns a strip of buildings on Pascagoula Street east of the hotel that it intends to renovate.

"We would like to do it in 2011, but it would be dependent on financing," Gibbs, a Jackson attorney, said.

Metrocenter Avoids Foreclosure
Texas-based Jackson Metrocenter Mall Ltd., which owns portions of Metrocenter Mall excluding several anchor stores, avoided foreclosure last week by bringing its mortgage payments up to date. The company had until Dec. 15 to make the overdue payments.

Developer David Watkins told the JFP that keeping the mall in the same hands for the moment actually benefits his company, Watkins Development.

"This (threat of foreclosure) took us by surprise," Watkins said. "I wasn't quite ready to take on another large financial obligation for buying the core, and I'm glad that they brought it current."

Watkins Development is in talks with the Texas company to purchase the property, but the two parties have not agreed on a price.

New Look for Belk in 2011
Another Metrocenter Mall property, the former Belk department store, could see changes within 60 days. Watkins Development already owns the 250,000-square-foot property and has plans to redevelop the building as an "office plaza," with office space, a new food court and new retail tenants such as a drug store. The $27 million project will start in early 2011 and should finish by "the middle of the year," Watkins said.

"We believe that that will stabilize the mall and then give us a chance to continue the negotiations with the owners," Watkins said.

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