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Adding to ‘funky’ Fondren, boutique-style hotel is first part of mixed-use project

By TED CARTER

A 110-room Hampton Inn set for construction in the spring will anchor a strip of shops, offices and possibly apartments at the north end of Fondren’s State Street business district.

The Whitney Place Development Group headed by attorney David Pharr and Jason Watkins, son of real estate developer David Watkins, said the hotel is the only component of the six-acre mixed-use project with an established time frame. Completing the hotel phase will allow a full focus on building a road behind the line of shops on the east side of north State Street, starting with the Capri Theater, Pharr said in an interview last week. The road would run parallel to State Street.

“The idea is to create an access road that opens up that block a little bit without removing any of the buildings on State Street,” Pharr said.

Conversion of the Capri into an entertainment venue is part of the development plan, he said.

The hotel, a boutique-style property to be built through a partnership with Jackson’s Desai Hotel Group, is expected to open 12 to 13 months after the start of construction, said Sunny Desai, the hotel company’s president and CEO.

Desai led a failed effort to build a Hampton Inn on Old Canton Road at Duling Avenue on a vacant lot next to Woodland Hills Baptist Church. Nearby residents protested that the hotel would diminish the neighborhood’s residential character.

“We didn’t anticipate the pushback,” Desai said in an interview last week.

“We’re very happy with the new location,” he added, and noted the north end property has more land for parking.

While Whitney Place Development Group will be an investor in the Hampton Inn, the Desai Hotel Group will control the five-story project and manage the property. The hotel company moved to Jackson four years ago and has completed several hotels locally and elsewhere in Mississippi, including a Fairfield Inn in Jackson, a Hampton Inn in Hernando and Holiday Inn Express hotels in Jackson, Natchez and Winona. “We’re also building a Hampton Inn & Suites in Ridgeland,” he said.

The hotel at 3111 N. State St. will be anything but typical, according to Pharr, who said the Hampton Inn will be accessed from Hartfield Street to keep the State Street side “pedestrian friendly,” he said. Parking will be in the rear of the hotel.

Pharr said the Rankin Interiors building on State Street between the Pig & Pint restaurant and Butter Fly Yoga will be demolished.

Pharr said in a press release the hotel building has been designed with “funky Fondren” in mind, mirroring existing neighborhood aesthetics. The first of the five floors will include 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of retail space, he said.

Desai said also planned is a rooftop restaurant and lounge with outdoor seating. Each corner room will have a balcony overlooking Fondren. Customary amenities such as pool, exercise room and business center will be included.

“It’s not a prototypical Hampton Inn,” he added. “Everything is custom-designed… We’re happy to say that this is going to be the flagship property of our company.”

The hotel group is at the “tail end” of arranging financing, Desai said.

As hotels go, the Whiney Place Hampton Inn will be “upper mid-scale” with nightly rates in the $110 range, Desai said.

Sixty percent occupancy should be enough to break even, but “it should be closer to 70 percent,” he added.

He sees Fondren as a mixed-use community that has matured to the point a hotel is viable. “Every major development is like a puzzle,” he said. “The hotel is the last piece of the puzzle.”

Already in place, Desai said, are “great retail, great restaurants and demand generated from three major hospitals.”

Fondren real estate developer Mike Peters said he thinks the optimism of Pharr and Desai is justified. “It’s a need,” he said of the hotel and retail space.

“It will be successful,” predicted Peters, who converted an art deco style building at the corner of State Street and Duling Avenue into Fondren Corner apartments and the old Duling Hall school into an entertainment and restaurant destination.

His company also did the Fondren Place development a block up on State Street. The three-story building has a BankPlus branch and offers office, retail and restaurant space.

Peters said he expects the Whitney Place retail space to lease up quickly. Fondren has none at the moment, he said. “I get calls every day. Right now there is not a place you can put a retail shop in Fondren.”

In its retail  leasing, Whitney Place will try to bring in stores that add to Fondren, not ones that duplicate current offerings, according to Pharr, who cited Fondren’s lengthy list of restaurants in leaving restaurants off his development plans.

Residential apartments are not in the current plans but if demand is later deemed sufficient, they will be added to the mix, Pharr said.

Getting the hotel done will create momentum for the remainder of the mixed-use development, especially getting started on the Capri conversion, he added.

The circa 1940 Capri, Jackson’s first neighborhood movie theater and originally named the Pix, is owned by two investor groups, of which Pharr and Watkins are members. The theater’s conversion promises to be “one of the more challenging parts of the development,” largely because it has been out of use for so long, Pharr said.

While plans are not firm, the conversion will have an entertainment component “that does not yet exist in the neighborhood,” he said.

Pharr and partners hope to defray some of the cost of the Capri work through state and federal historic restoration tax credits.  Pharr and Watkins led an effort to have the Fondren business district put on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation awarded in September 2014.

About Ted Carter

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