By JACK WEATHERLY
Three planned hotels stand to change the look if not the character of downtown Fondren.
The north Jackson arts and entertainment district with a bohemian flair awaits the outcome of the hotels, two of which were announced 20 months ago.
The most recent plan, a 125-room Homewood Suites, was revealed late last month.
They would create a hotel row within three blocks of North State Street, all on the west side.
Other than the question of whether such change can good for the little district, there is the question as to whether the district can be good for the hotels.
In other words, is there room for the inns?
Roy Decker Jr., whose Duvall Decker Architects is to build the nine-story hostelry called “The Fondren,” says yes.
That’s because each serves a different segment of the market, Decker said. And the lodgings would together serve to enhance the all-important human traffic.
The 102-guestroom Fondren will be a Starwood Aloft brand, which has a modernist appeal to a younger clientele.
It will be on State Street at Mitchell Avenue and will incorporate the mid-century modern style of Kolb Cleaners, which will be converted into the entrance and lobby for the nine-story hotel.
Sunny Desai, president of Jackson-based Desai Hotel Group, said that plans are “moving forward” with a five-story, 110-guestroom Hampton Inn to be built at 3111 N. State.
Desai described it in an earlier interview as having a “boutique” style and as an atypical Hampton Inn. Parking will be from Hartfield Street to keep the State Street side pedestrian friendly, he said.
Developers of the first two confirmed that their projects were nearing the end of preliminary stages and would turn dirt by the end of the year. Both will benefit from tax increment financing granted by the city in which property taxes from the development would initially be shifted for support infrastructure.
The third project is a 125-guestroom Homewood Suites to be built by Ridgeland-based Heritage Hospitality Group.
The Homewood Suites will be, as the name suggests, suites for extended-stay clientele, such as those coming to the area because of the medical complex. It would be built between Lorenz Avenue and Fondren Place. The group does not have a TIF designation at this stage.
Decker said that “The Fondren” is indeed moving forward, though “excruciatingly slow,” he said.
When it was announced in January 2016 the hotel had already been well received by the community, Decker said.
Decker has made a personal investment in Fondren.
He and his wife, Anne Marie Decker, designed and built a house in residential Fondren that won the 2016 National Housing Award from the American Institute of Architects.
Construction of the Desai group’s Hampton Inn was to have started in the spring of 2016 but the effort encountered some obstacles, though not opposition. Nevertheless, the start of construction is close, Desai said in an Aug. 29 interview.
“We’re kind of waiting on the city on a couple of items,” Sunny Desai said.
One unanticipated obstacle was a change in partnership in midstream, he said.
The Desai group bought out Whitney Place Development’s interest in the hotel, though Desai is working with David Pharr and Jason Watkins, principals of Whitney Place Development, in the projected six-acre mixed-use project, Desai said. Financing of the hotel is not a problem now, Desai said.
Is there sufficient demand for all three hotels?
Decker said that because of they would serve different segments of the market, they should complement each other.
Ron Chane (pronounced Chaney) has been in business in Fondren for 19 years and was the founder of Fondren First Thursday, an event that celebrates the district. He says he and some other shop owners in downtown Fondren are protective of its character.
Starting with his screened T-shirt business, he has opened several shops.
Chane said he is wary of what he called the “five-story corporate hotel” unveiled last week.
Despite his efforts to stay apprised of the plans for the latest hotel, he was surprised by the announcement, he said.
The business district begins at the diversion of State Street and Old Canton Road, running north till it gives way to the residential part.
On Old Canton are some of the early businesses in the recent incarnation of the district, such as the Rainbow Co-op and Cups, as well as Fondren Village, with its 10 shops, and, on the east side of Old Canton, Surin of Thailand restaurant.
Sunny Desai knows the sting of rejection. He led a failed earlier effort to build a Hampton Inn on Old Canton Road at Duling Avenue on a vacant lot next to Woodland Hills Baptist Church. Fondren residents argued that the hotel would diminish the neighborhood’s character.
“We didn’t anticipate the pushback” against the plan that was scrapped, Desai said in an earlier interview.
This time, by contrast, Desai said his plan was developed in full view of the community in meetings complete with renderings.
On the two-acre site for the Homewood Suites hotel is a house referred to by some as “the Fondren House,” at 2819 N. State St. It is one of eight structures on the property where the lodging will go.
Two are the Green Ghost Taco and the former location of Rankin Interiors, both of which will be demolished.
While it is in the Fondren Historic District at 2819 N. State St., the so-called Fondren House is not protected by historical status from being moved or demolished.
As for the developers’ plans for it, Alan Lange, a partner, said in a prepared statement: “There are a couple of properties in the parcel including 2819 North State that have potential to be moved and reused.
“A good deal of time and expense has gone into that analysis and we are working with some nonprofit organizations about their reuse, but no final decisions have been made at this point.”
A release issued Aug. 30 mentioned that demolition of structures “should begin in the next 30 days.”
Jim Wilkrson, executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, was quoted in Find It in Fondren, a neighborhood publication, as saying that “while encouraging historic preservation, [the foundation] also welcomes new investment and development. FRF’s hope is that the end product will convey the historic identity of the [district].”
Downtown Fondren is a National Historic District and while “the Fondren House” is listed as a “contributing structure . . . [it has no] protections at the national level unless there are federal monies involved,” said Lolly Rash, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust.
At the state level, there likewise is no protection for that particular house, Rash said.
The date of when it was built appears to be the early 20th century, said Jennifer Baughn of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
James Patterson, who has had a photography studio in Fondren for 15 years, said that addition of the hotels “can be a really positive thing.”
Patterson, who popped into his studio Sunday afternoon to take care of a bit of business, said he can almost see “tumbleweeds blowing down the street” on Sundays.
“We’d love for the people who are putting in the hotels to have a little more conversation with the people who are already here. Are they going to put in a restaurant in the hotel? Is it going to compete with the one across the street?
“It’s a delicate balance.”