Master Hospitality to build $10-million convention center

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: January 26,2004

TUPELO – The Tupelo Redevelopment Agency has selected Memphis-based Master Hospitality Development Services Inc. (MHDS) to construct a 117-room, $10- million convention center hotel, a key piece of the master-planned Fairpark District in downtown Tupelo.

“The ability to attract a quality hotel company into this area is a distinct and aggressive step,” said Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis. “We applaud the work of the Tupelo Redevelopment Authority and the private sector ownership for participating in this exciting development. It is essential to maintain the vitality of the Central Business District of our town as we grow and progress.”

After the Tupelo Redevelopment Authority (TRA) issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for a convention center hotel, the city`s urban renewal agency received 16 inquiries and two submittals before selecting MHDS, which operates a 93-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Tupelo, to build Hilton Garden Inn on a three-acre site on East Main Street adjoining the BancorpSouth Center, a 10,000-seat arena.

Industry veteran Tom Ricketts heads MHDS. Under his direction, his companies have developed and operate eight award-winning properties in the Mid-South area under Marriott and Hilton brand franchises. The Tupelo Courtyard by Marriott was selected Franchise Hotel of the Year for the brand in 1999 and 2000, and has been awarded the designation

“Hotel of the Southeast Region” for the past four years.

Prior to developing the Courtyard, Ricketts worked with the company that owned the Executive Inn on North Gloster from 1981 to 1997. During the early 1980s, Rickett spent extensive time in the Tupelo market. This exposure, coupled with his Courtyard property`s location, prompted his interest in the convention center hotel project, he said.

“The City of Tupelo and TRA have exhibited a desire to produce a first-class environment in the Fairpark District,” said Ricketts. “We are honored to have been selected to be a part of this plan. We feel that Hilton Garden Inn will be an asset to the vision of the group responsible for the revitalization of downtown Tupelo and believe that the hotel will perhaps attract new businesses and visitors to the area.”

The four-story hotel has been designed to allow the addition of 36 rental units, for a total of 153 rooms. The hotel will connect to the existing coliseum through enclosed walkways, providing weather-free access to all areas of the complex. Hilton Garden Inn`s signature pavilion will house the registration desk, American Grill restaurant and lounge. Hotel amenities include an indoor pool and spa, fitness room and business center. Each guest room will feature one king or two double beds, two phone lines, high-speed Internet access and a large work desk designed for the business traveler. It will also include a microwave, refrigerator, coffeemaker, iron, ironing board and hair dryer.

To make room for the convention center hotel, the 120,000-square-foot J.C. Penney building that has been vacant for about a decade has been demolished, said Debbie Brangenberg, director of the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and project liaison for TRA.

“Bids for the balance of demolition – two buildings and some slabs in the development area – will be completed by April,” she said.

Memphis-based Pinkoski & Company is conducting a post-9/11 market assessment update of the Tupelo market for TRA that should be completed later this month, said Brangenberg.

“Those findings and current negotiations will be used to finalize plans to move forward with Master Hospitality Group for a Hilton Garden Inn and 30,000-square-foot convention center,” she said. “This property will be located on the south side of BancorpSouth Center on Main Street.”

The location follows the master development plan, and is very important to the overall success of creating an entertainment district connected with the development property on the south side of Main Street, said Brangenberg.

“We’re always flexible, but by having the hotel and convention center located across from our entertainment section, we hope to attract restaurants, pubs, movie houses and other entertainment venues,” said TRA chairman Chris Rogers. “It`s very important to us to have a very walkable entertainment area with everything in close proximity. That`s the heart of our concept.”

The $4.2-million, 30,000-square-foot, three-floor City Hall was completed in 2002, around the same time that Memphis-based Malco Theatres opted to build a theater near the Mall at Barnes Crossing instead of downtown Tupelo. Since then, Frank Spain`s auto museum has opened and is drawing attention to the area, which also houses Tupelo Hardware, where Elvis Presley bought his first guitar in 1945, Lyric Theatre, GumTree Museum of Art and Skyloft Apartments. Other private development in the Fairpark District includes Fairview Courts, which houses two attorneys and TriVista Outpatients Physical Therapy. Peoples Bank will soon open a private banking division.

“Malco made a great decision choosing to locate at The Mall at Barnes Crossing,” said Rogers. “The timing was better for them and they have been very successful. We may be looking at a smaller theater or something of that nature for our entertainment area.”

Coldwell Banker Tommy Morgan Inc. Realtors recently purchased a parcel fronting Main Street and the new civic plaza. Morgan, who was also chosen by TRA to be the listing broker for the redevelopment, will be relocating the real estate offices by the end of the year. Morgan also submitted an option for another parcel located west of the new City Hall, said Rogers.

“Tommy has one of the best, if not the best, real estate agency in Tupelo,” he said. “His agents are very excited about moving into downtown Tupelo, which obviously excites us. We want them to bring clients into downtown Tupelo as they show houses and commercial properties. We’re thinking it would attract restaurants and more activity in the downtown market.

“However, we’re by no means suffering in downtown Tupelo. We’re 96% occupied. We’re simply trying to expand on different lifestyles in downtown Tupelo.”

Morgan`s new offices will be located on the site of the Rosato Building, an old industrial building that is also slated for demolition, said Rogers.

“There were a few slabs and one other building that was vacated,” he said. “Those are the sorts of things that will help us paint our new canvas.”

Phase II, the residential component of the plan, will be completed by the end of February. Final design and specification are being completed and estimates are being reviewed on construction of the civic plaza in front of City Hall and to move forward with improvements to East Main Street, said Brangenberg.

“The city plaza known as Fairpark will front Main Street and City Hall and will feature a fountain, many trees and an amphitheater,” said Rogers. “It`s where the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show was held for numerous years, so there is quite a bit of history behind it.”

The Fairpark District is a 50-acre site adjacent to downtown the city acquired in 1995. It is being developed to include housing, retail and office space and a 34,000-square-foot, three-story business incubator. When completed, the downtown business district will double in size.

Another potential development in the area involves Canton developer S.L. Sethi, who had earlier proposed building a $9-million Sheraton hotel. However, Sethi was not one of the two bidders that responded to the TRA`s RTP for the new convention center hotel. The proposed Sheraton would not be located adjacent to the BancorpSouth Center, a 10,000-seat arena, but on private property located across the street to the east, said Brangenberg. City officials did not know the status of the proposed Sheraton. Sethi could not be reached for comment by press time.

“The City of Tupelo is very proud of the Fairpark District and the progress being made,” said Otis. “The Tupelo Redevelopment has been able to bring about a real transition in the downtown area of Tupelo.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne
W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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