Harbor Walk development anchored by four-star Hotel Valencia

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Published: November 29,2004

What do San Antonio’s River Walk, San José’s Santana Row and Ridgeland’s Harbor Walk development have in common?
The four-star Hotel Valencia.

The Harbor Walk property, the centerpiece of the $200-million development underway on the Ross Barnett Reservoir, is in the earliest stages now, but if its sister hotels are any indication, it could readily put Harbor Walk and Mississippi on the map as a regional, and even national, destination.

The upscale, hip and hot boutique properties are being lauded by travel magazines and Web sites. Expedia recently named the Hotel Valencia in San José, Calif. as one of the top 10 hip hotels in the world, and last May, Condé Nast Traveler listed the Hotel Valencia Riverwalk as one of the 100 best new hotels in the world. Both of the distinctive, small luxury properties opened in early 2003. Harbor Walk’s Valencia hotel will likely open in fall of 2007.

“We are excited about the potential of the project,” said Matthew Nuss, vice president of operations for the Valencia Group, which is based in Houston, Texas. “That area of metro Jackson seems to fit our demographics almost perfectly — 22-ish to 50-plus, well-heeled, with discriminating tastes and an appreciation for quality.”

That type of property also fits the vision of John Burwell of Main Harbor Development, whose company will begin construction on the first phase of the Harbor Walk development in the spring. Burwell sees immense potential in the reservoir area for both residents and visitors.

“I think we in Mississippi are starved for something like this,” he said, in speaking of the planned development as a whole. “We plan to have a lot of events. Harbor Walk will be family-oriented and fun, with music, restaurants, bars and shopping. It will be a great place to just come and hang out instead of going to the Mississippi Coast or Memphis or New Orleans. This is going to be important for the region.”

Along with the hotel, shopping and dining, the development will offer condominium living and office space. The hotel will have approximately 200 rooms and will be a huge enticement for out-of-area visitors. Still, it will have plenty to offer non-hotel guests.

“Valencia hotels have a very high-end signature restaurant and a signature chef who incorporates elements of the local cuisine, as well as some national and international trends,” said Nuss. “We also like to create a hot bar that is the destination bar for the market. We have hit homeruns both in the San José and San Antonio markets in both those regards. We are the place to hang out, to be and be seen. Those are critical components to our equation, as well as offering a destination-type pool area and all the amenities of a four-star hotel.”

Valencia properties are also arguably among the most technologically advanced hotels in the world, offering such things as wireless curbside check-in, advanced Internet Protocol (IP) telephony, high-speed wireless Internet access, wireless printing and digital video on demand (VOD). The design and decor are also big draws.

Old and new meet in design

“We haven’t really addressed the concept for the Harbor Walk Hotel, but typically what we do is an old world-type exterior concept and the opposite type of interior,” Nuss said. “Something that’s sleek and contemporary and sophisticated on the inside in the shell of an old world- style building. We’ll also incorporate some elements of Mr. Burwell’s design ideas into ours.”

So how did a local developer convince a “hot property” developer who has built into well-established, larger tourist destinations to buy into his dream? Turns out that Burwell and the Valencia Property developers were once both in the oil business and crossed paths in the 1980s. A relationship was established, and when the Harbor Walk project was beginning, a friend suggested Burwell contact them.

“They came over, took one look and said ‘We’re in,’” said Burwell. “This situation — all this land here on the reservoir — doesn’t exist in America anymore. If it wasn’t for the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, there wouldn’t be the ground here. You could not assemble this much land around this body of water with this access and the proximity to this many people.”

“When people see what it is like, they are going to love it,” he added. “It’s a winner.”

Burwell says approximately 25 of the planned condos are already reserved and he is in talks with several people regarding the office space. He plans to soon announce commitments for restaurants and retail.

The additional phases of the project will be market-driven, Burwell says, but he expects the entire development to be a 10- to 12-year project.

“I think we are going to end up with a lot of buildings out here,” he said. “We envision another hotel, all suites and not quite as expensive. We have good access to here, especially with the new $45-million interchange being built between Ridgeland and Madison, and we have plenty of ground.”

Information about the development, interactive tours and more can be accessed at www.harborwalkms.com.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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