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King Edward Hotel, Farish Street at the heart of Jackson

Developing downtown

After a hang-up involving the building’s windows, the redevelopment of the King Edward Hotel in downtown Jackson is on track for completion Nov. 1.

The $89.6-million project, whose public funding in the form of loans and tax incremental financing bonds is less than $5 million, was originally scheduled for completion this summer, but that had to be pushed back when the developers ran into resistance from the National Park Service (NPS) over their selection of windows.

In order to muffle the noise from the trains running on the adjacent railroad tracks, and at the behest of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, chief developer David Watkins, CEO of Watkins Development, and his team had selected double-paned windows with eight inches between each pane.

“The reason why these are manufactured this way is they are specially tuned to the frequency of the noises from the trains,” Watkins said. “The National Park Service just didn’t like it.” The group had gained approval for the windows from the Department of Archives and History, whose decisions usually parallel those of the NPS.

“We were kind of taken aback when the Park Service took a hard-line view and weren’t really prepared for it. It did not end up being a catastrophe because we were able to get the project finished in this calendar year. Had it gone past December, it would have been a really, really bad situation. Other than that delay, the project is otherwise on time and on-budget.”

The back and forth between the developers and the NPS cost the project about 90 days, some of which has been made up since, Watkins said.

So instead of opening its doors, the mixed-use development that will include 64 one- and two-bedroom apartments and an 186-room Hilton Garden Inn will debut Nov. 1.

“These things happen,” Watkins said. “These big, complex projects that require every governmental approval you can think of, occasionally, you have a hiccup. Fortunately, it ended up resolving itself well financially, but it still hurt nonetheless.”

The top four floors of the building will consist of apartments: the bottom eight will make up the hotel. The lobby will have a bar and meeting rooms.

Finishing touches remain on the construction list. With most of the interior sheet-rocked, furnishings, built-ins and the kitchens on the bottom floor are next on the to-do list.

Watkins said about half of the 64 apartments are spoken for — “that’s without even having a firm rate,” Watkins said — and marketing of the remainder of the units will start shortly. Watkins will close on the The King Edward’s sister project, the Standard Life building, Tuesday, which is a 16-month project that, when finished, will have retailers on the bottom floors and apartments on the upper floors.

Construction is scheduled to begin either Tuesday or Wednesday, Watkins said.

“When you get people living downtown, everybody else will start providing shops, stores, restaurants, drug stores, those will come,” Watkins said.

Watkins Development is also involved in the restoration of the Farish Street area downtown.

Watkins’ group took over the project from the old developers last December.

“Our first order of business was to go down and clean up some buildings on the first block,” said Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, director of media and entertainment for Watkins Development.

The first block is the first phase of the project, and is scheduled for opening in late October. Construction is supposed to start in about a month.

The first phase will include a B.B. King Blues Club, a Red Rooster restaurant and dance club, a sports bar, an open-air amphitheater and the reopening of the old Subway Lounge, which will feature world-famous house band Jimmy King and the House Rockers.

“We want to try to keep it as local and as Mississippi as possible. We’re not going to commercialize it. It’s not going to be Beale Street, so you’re not going to be seeing Starbucks or Applebee’s or Chili’s,” Franklin said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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