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After major redesign, construction of Cleveland hotel complex resumes

Dinesh Chawla

By Jack Weatherly

After extensive redesign, the Scion West End hotel complex is moving forward in the construction phase.

That’s the word from Dinesh Chawla, president of Chawla Hotels Inc., which is building the $20 million project in west Cleveland.

Things were moving toward a completion in late 2017, when Chawla and his brother, Suresh, signed a deal with the Trump Organization in June 2017.

Suresh Chawla

Then came a redesign of the project, which took the better part of a year, according to Dinesh Chawla.

Now the project into the concrete phase again, he said in a recent interview.

Almost lost in the politics that swirls around Trump brothers Eric and Donald Jr. and their famous father is the original plan, seemingly obscured in a Delta dust storm.

Three buildings in an 11-building complex are virtually complete and five foundations were on the verge of being laid, he said.

Late spring 2019 looks like a good completion target for the 17.5-acre complex, which will be fed by visitors on the Blues Trail that runs through the Delta and beyond and the Grammy Museum Mississippi in Cleveland, as well as events at Delta State University.

The Chawlas are seeking to make the Scion West End a destination in its own right, he said.

“I’m meeting with some people today about music experiences and culinary experiences,” he said.

The three-acre green space could accommodate a concert with 7,000 people.

Possible land and water excursions are under consideration for the complex in Bolivar County, which borders the Mississippi River.

Naturally, the Trump-Chawla partnership has attracted national attention, including The New York Times, which has written several stories about the endeavor, with a hefty leavening of politics.

The Chawla brothers have mixed feelings about all the attention. There’s gratitude for the opportunity but also discomfort for being under public scrutiny during one of the most tumultuous presidential terms in recent memory.

Suresh Chawla says that the Delta has been a “utopia” for the family. V.K. Chawla left India and internment in a refugee camp for nine years, and the execution of his father and two brothers in a religious war before moving to Canada and eventually Mississippi.

V.K. Chawla, who held a Ph.D in environmental engineering, was known locally for being a philanthropist.

Now the family wants to continue that tradition. It will form the Chawla Hospitality Academy at Coahoma Community College near Clarksdale.

The academy will offer training for the hotel industry, ranging from housekeeping to technical maintenance to front desk – and possibly leading to management.

The academy was a dream of their father, Suresh Chawla said.

In attending workshops in Memphis, a major hub in the hospitality industry, the Chawlas were disheartened to see so few African-Americans involved.

The Chawla Academy should have a positive impact on that problem in the Delta, which is predominantly African-American, Suresh Chawla said, adding that his business will contribute to the institution. The plans will be revealed in detail on Oct. 3.

Chawla concedes that the family business stands to benefit, but he notes that the certifications will be a boost to all hotels and casinos in the Delta and can be used anywhere “from Clarksdale to Seattle.”

Steven Jossell, director of work-force development at Coahoma Community College, said the training program will be the only one of its kind in the Delta.

As previously stated, an article by the Mississippi Business Journal about the Chawla plan for the grand hotel and the Trump phone call caught the eye of a member of the Trump Organization.

The article recounted an unlikely event from 1988 in which V.K. Chawla, owner and operator of convenience store in Greenwood, was encouraged by Donald Trump to pursue his goal of building a hotel.

Chawla had made a bold move and reached out to the hotel and resort magnate.

To Chawla’s surprise, he got a phone call one day from Trump himself.

The man who in 2016 would be elected U.S. president, said Chawla’s plan did not fit in the plans for his empire.

But as Trump had suggested, the elder Chawla got a Small Business Administration Minority loan and built the first of a chain of 18 hotels in the Delta, an enterprise that his sons have continued to run after his death in May 2015.

Fast forward to December 2016 and the sons announced plans for a full-service hotel in Cleveland.

In March 2017, the Trump Hotel group contacted the Mississippians.

The Mississippi Business Journal article stated that the property initially was to be called the Lyric Hotel and was expected to cost about $8 million.

Trump was planning a campaign stop in Jackson and Gov. Phil Bryant, an ardent Trump supporter, urged Suresh to be there.

The governor introduced Suresh to Trump, listened to the Chawlas’ latest project and encouraged him to to “think grand.”

The Chawlas nearly doubled the scope of the plan – to $15 million.

Meantime, grand things were in store for Trump, a decided underdog to Hillary Clinton.

The Trump Organization, which was being run by the president’s sons, reached out to the Chawlas about about their latest plan.

The Trump businesses had been put in what is called a revocable trust – an arrangement that has drawn criticism because it would allow his sons and a key employee to distribute money to Trump, according to the Washington Post.

Dinesh Chawla recalled that three months of negotiations with the Trump organization ended in June 2017 at the Trump Tower in Manhattan when Donald Trump Jr. made the announcement of the project and the Trumps’ American Idea chain, the first three of which would be existing Chawla hotels that would be converted to the new brand.

The Lyric Hotel had become the Scion, the first in a projected luxury chain.

It was the second time Donald Trump offered business advice to the Chawlas. And the second time they took it to heart.

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