By TED CARTER
The pending move of law firm Forman Watkins & Krutz from downtown Jackson’s City Centre has cleared the way for the new owners to convert the two-building office complex to a convention center hotel.
An executive with new owners Hertz Investment Group said earlier this month a decision by City Centre main tenant Forman Watkins & Krutz not to renew a lease next year would prompt a close look at a hotel conversion. “It really all depends on what the law firm does,” said Jim Ingram, Hertz executive vice president and chief investment officer.
Forman Watkins & Krutz has had a parade of departures in recent weeks and says it will be moving out of the 120,000 square-foot space covering nine floors it has occupied at City Centre since 2005.
The firm would not say where it is moving to other than the relocation would be within Jackson’s Central Business District. Three people with knowledge of the relocation plans say Forman Watkins will move into several floors of Regions Plaza, another Hertz-owned office building a short distance from City Centre’s 200 S. Lamar St. location.
“No lease has been finalized but we can confirm an upcoming Jackson relocation for Forman Watkins’ office,” the firm said in a statement last Friday.
Hertz’ Ingram was unavailable for comment.
Other leases at the 266,700 square-foot City Centre do not expire until the end of 2018. If Hertz decided to move ahead with a 300-room convention center hotel, presumably it could seek to buy out those leases spread among the 12-floor south tower and 10-floor north tower.
Ingram, in an interview two weeks ago, said Hertz Group analyzed the financial viability of converting the City Centre to a convention hotel after the Jackson Redevelopment Authority issued a request for proposals last spring. Hertz concluded the conversion would not be financially viable, even with the 518-space garage that serves the buildings.
Hertz made its examination, however, on the viability of turning City Centre into a five-star, full service hotel.
A conversion to a less expensive grade of hotel should work, according to Ingram. He emphasized the bargain price of $6.4 million Hertz paid Parkway Properties for City Centre and its garage make a conversion to hotel even more attractive.
Tax rebates and other incentives the Jackson Redevelopment Authority could offer also add to the attractiveness of a convention hotel conversion.
Re-purposing City Centre into a hotel to serve the Jackson Convention Complex is not the only option, Ingram said. “It’s likely the building could be redeveloped into a hotel or even residential,” he said,
Keeping City Centre as an office complex is also an option, Ingram added,
“We can make money with either of these three,” he said.
Renovated in 1987, City Centre includes two lobbies with a marble finish and an atrium with black granite and mahogany panels. City Centre is within a short walk to Jackson’s 5-year-old convention complex, as well as the city’s arts complex, the U.S. Courthouse and state office buildings.
A review committee created by the Jackson Redevelopment Authority is evaluating two proposals for a 300-room convention hotel, one from a Washington, D.C., developer and the other from a Herndon, Va., developer. They both propose building a hotel on JRA-owned land across Pascagoula Street from the convention complex. The review panel set an October deadline to make its selection but its failure to raise a quorum for a recent meeting could force a delay.
A final decision on a hotel project on the Pascagoula Street properties will be up to the mayor and City Council.