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Standard Life Building to be reborn, thanks to King Edward

In a rather ironic turn of events, the historic King Edward Hotel, which was barely spared from going the way of the wrecking ball, has saved the equally venerable Standard Life Building from perhaps a similar fate. After years of debate, downtown Jackson’s Standard Life Building is getting new life, with renovations earmarked to begin in November.

On June 27, the Jackson Redevelopment Authority (JRA) approved a proposal by a group that includes Jackson attorney David Watkins and other local business leaders, NFL star, entrepreneur and Mississippi native Deuce McAllister and Historic Restoration Inc. (HRI) of New Orleans. The team’s plan is to convert the historic high-rise building into a residential development with a mix of some retail space.

This is the same group that is undertaking the revitalization of the adjacent King Edward. Working both projects simultaneously afforded economies of scale and tax credits that made the Standard Life Building facelift feasible.

HRI development project manager Ken Milvid said undertaking the Standard Life Building project as a standalone would have been much more expensive and financially unattractive.

Watkins said with a smile, “In essence, the Standard Life Building was a change order on the King Edward project. The King Edward allowed us to pursue the Standard Life project.”

Working together

The renovation of the stately Standard Life Building will prove every bit as daunting as the adjacent King Edward. Watkins referred to the Standard Life project as a “total gut job.” None of the building’s systems are up to code and have to be replaced. However, it is a required addition that almost killed the project before it began.

McAllister’s organization was the first to conduct a feasibility study of the Standard Life Building. It was discovered that in order to meet International Building Code requirements, the structure had to have two stairwells. The building only has one, so a second would have to be incorporated.

The availability of federal and state historic tax credits was essential in making the renovation of the Standard Life Building financially feasible. To take advantage of those credits, the building’s façade could not be altered. In short, the second staircase could not be added to the structure’s exterior.

This meant an internal stairwell was the only answer, and knocked a serious hole in the building’s numbers. The stairwell will eat up 20% of the building’s 90,000 square feet, space that could never be leased. Already iffy financially, the stairs were nearly a deal-killer.

Fortunately, the King Edward came to the rescue. First, there was the economies of scale of the adjacent project. Perhaps the most important was retaining building contractor Clayco. The St. Louis, Mo.-based firm was already working the King Edward project and could undertake the Standard Life work, as well.

As important, combining the projects made the team eligible for New Market Tax Credits. These credits are only available for commercial projects. While the Standard Life Building will encompass some retail space, it will be predominately a residential building, disqualifying it for the tax credits. However, the King Edward meets the tax credits’ caveat, and since the projects were combined, allowed the Standard Life Building to reap the tax break.

The availability of GO Zone bonds were yet another plus that made the Standard Life project financially feasible, and also contributes to the project’s rather fast-track schedule. The development group hopes to have the building renovated and reopened by the second quarter of 2009.

High-rise life

As Milvid pointed out, downtown Jackson has plenty of office and commercial space, but is lacking in residential choices. Thus, the best and highest use for the Standard Life Building is a place for people to live.

While retail and commercial offerings are planned for the bottom floor and perhaps the second floor, as well, the Standard Life Building will feature 58 one- and two-bedroom apartments. Preliminary design work was still being executed at press time, so just exactly what these apartments might eventually look like and offer is still to be determined.

(The solving of a seemingly small problem may equate into a large coup for the project. No one could lay hands on the building’s original plans, which would greatly expedite the planning and execution of the renovation. Fortunately, those plans were eventually discovered “buried” in the manager’s office.)

How much the project will cost is also unknown. An appraisal of the property was still being executed at press time. The total expected cost of the project is in the range of $25 million to $30 million.

It should be noted that the Standard Life project is being executed without practically any taxpayer money. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded the group $800,000 for asbestos removal, and the Mississippi Development Authority gave the group a loan of approximately $2 million for preliminary studies and work. Aside from that, all funds are from the private sector.

Hearts… and minds

Overcoming politics and bureaucracy, nay-sayers, lost plans and all the other expected and unexpected twists and turns of the project, the Standard Life developers are obviously proud and excited to see the project come to fruition. To be a part of the revitalization of downtown Jackson is rewarding for the team.

This is especially true for Watkins. His law office, Watkins & Young, PLLC, is housed in downtown Jackson’s Union Station Railway Depot, yet another successful downtown renovation project that Watkins spearheaded. He is the most recognizable local face and name connected with the King Edward project, and now serves as point man of the Standard Life Building.

However, Watkins and all others interviewed for this story stressed that while the King Edward/Standard Life project is fulfilling, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

“I’m not interested in going bankrupt at this stage of my life,” Watkins said with a grin.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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