By TED CARTER
The nearly 60-year-old Kolb’s Cleaners building and modern architecture it represents will spend the decades to come as the entrance and lobby of a nine-floor hotel.
The matchup of the hotel and the dry cleaners building is architect and developer Roy Decker Jr.’s idea. He says the building that sits back off North State Street at Mitchell Avenue affords an opportunity to meld the modernist architecture of the mid-part of the previous century with a multi-story building design that reflects a similar modern and progressive spirit.
Call it “The Fondren,” Decker said in an interview last week in which he detailed plans for the conversion of the Kolb’s building and construction of the 102-room hotel and accompanying amphitheater. Once parking is in place, the hotel property will extend back from the east side of North State Street to Oxford Street.
“It’s a project designed for use and function,” said Decker, whose firm, Duvall Decker Architects, designed the building more than a year ago.
The project has been in the making for months and has been well received around Fondren, according to Decker, a partner in Eldon Development which has enlisted CBA Hospitality as the hotel partners.
The spring construction start is likely to coincide with groundbreaking on yet another Fondren hotel, a Hampton Inn, that will go up just up North State between the Pig & Pint restaurant and Butter Fly Yoga. The five-floor Hampton Inn, which will include around 6,000 square feet of ground floor retail, is to anchor the Whitney Place mixed-use project planned by developers David Pharr and Jason Watkins and hotel partner Desai Hotel Group.
The hotel Decker and his partners are doing will be operated by the boutique branch of Starwood Hotels.
Both The Fondren and the Hampton Inn are key elements in a City of Jackson tax increment financing district. Money from increases in the taxable value of the land on which the hotels sit will pay for infrastructure improvements along that stretch of the business district.
The improvements include new parking and utilities upgrades, especially to sewage handling capacity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires the waste-water system improvements as part of a consent decree stemming from Jackson’s inadequate sewage processing.
In addition to the tax increment financing district, capital for The Fondren is coming from private investment, bank loans and historic preservation tax credits the Decker team hopes to gain through preservation of Kolb’s Cleaners.
The preservation element is important to the entire project, according to Decker, who has been designing and developing commercial projects in the area for a couple of decades.
Decker said the circa mid-1950s Kolb’s building gave him an opportunity to put an authentic front to a 21st century hotel design that aligns with Fondren’s legacy of 1950’s modernism.
Fondren, he said in an email, “is one of the first commercial centers and neighborhoods that evolved to support a growing population and the mobility afforded by the automobile.
“It was seen as modern and progressive. Kolb’s was designed by architect Robert Overstreet in 1955 and is one of the purest representations of the Modern architecture movement in Jackson.”
Decker said the hotel’s expression is modern and progressive and in the same spirit as the community it will join.
“Our project is to be integrated into the community,” he said. “We’ll be using things design-wise to make it fit in with Fondren.”
If construction schedules come off as planned, both The Fondren and Hampton Inn could be completed around the same time. Fondren is an emerging visitor destination for dining and entertainment, but can it be profitable ground for the hotel owners?
The challenge for the hotels is building a visitor base strong enough to sufficiently fill more than 200 rooms in a market where none existed before? A market analysis shows they can do that and more, according to Decker, who cited a study for which he contracted that concluded Fondren could support 300 hotel rooms.
The study helped to sustain Decker’s confidence in his own project after he learned his team would not be the only new hoteliers in Fondren. “Prior to us starting the project, we actually didn’t know about the other project,” he said.
Both are introducing boutique-style properties to a market showing sustained growth, the developers of the hotels say.
Decker said he and the Whitney Place developers have recognized the same trend and the same need.
“It’s a prime growth market,” he said, and one that could be currently under-served considering the several nearby hospitals and universities.
As they begin drawing overnight visitors to Fondren, Decker’s team thinks the two hotels will complement each other. “There will be high occupancy in both properties,” he said.
Lenders apparently think so. The Whitney Place group says it is tying up final ends on its financing, while Decker says his team has financing commitments in hand.
“We have been very diligent to put all the financing pieces in place,” said Decker, who noted the Kolb building work has already been approved for state historic preservation tax credits. State lawmakers, however, have yet to replenish credits that ran out last year.
The Fondren and the Hampton Inn will rise higher than any nearby structures, providing rooftop dining and balcony views of the Capitol and what one developer calls “Funky Fondren.”
Both hotels will also offer rooms for meetings, receptions and other functions.
Retail is included as well.
It’s become common to put shops and and service providers on the ground floors of hotels in urban areas, according to hotelier Gaines Sturdivant, CEO of Flowood-based MMI Hospitality Group and a member of the Jackson Convention and Visitor Bureaus board.
The shops help the hotels become part of the community, he said. Sometimes local government will require first-floor retail, added Sturdivant, whose firm builds and manages hotels across the South.
“We ran into this in Charlottesville, Va. They required you to have retail on the front side.”
Whether required or not, giving guests shopping options is a “positive amenity,” Sturdivant said.
Meanwhile, it is difficult to gauge just how well the competing hotels will do in the emerging market, Sturdivant said, though he acknowledged the demand generated “in that area is significant.”
He said he is especially bullish on the prospects of the Hampton Inn. “I think it is going to do well.”
Its Hampton Inn branding “will have a lot to do with that,” he said.
Together with a Marriot Residence Inn soon to open at the District at Eastover off Interstate 55 just north of Lakeland Drive, the new Fondren hotels could accelerate a shift under way in Jackson’s lodging markets, he said.
Hotels in the High Street-Mississippi Coliseum area have been on the short end of the shift, Sturdivant said. “Many of those have aged. They are not competitive any longer.”
As a result, lodgers who once stayed in the High Street area now go to Pearl and County Line Road. And some could shift to Fondren, Sturdivant predicted.