After decades, King Edward coming back

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Published: April 7,2008

Forty years after the lights went out, the King Edward Hotel is on its way back.

Developers and political leaders jabbed shovels into the dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony March 27, marking the end of the building’s tenure as a home for pigeons and a hangout for the homeless, and the rise of its renewal.

“It used to be a message of shame and embarrassment,” said David Watkins, a Jackson attorney who is developing the project along with HRI Properties of New Orleans and Deuce McAllister, the former and Ole Miss running back and current New Orleans Saints star. “This is a testament to the will and the determination of the people of Jackson and Mississippi.

Scheduled for completion in late summer or early fall of 2009, the new King Edward will be a mixed-use development featuring:

• A 186-room Hilton Garden Inn hotel

• 64 upper-floor apartments

• 187 parking spaces in a garage built adjacent to the King Edward

A restaurant and bar and retail outlets will set up shop on the lower levels. Clayco, a St. Louis-based real estate development, design and construction firm, will do the heavy lifting.

Money for the $89-million undertaking came from state historic tax credits, federal historic tax credits, a state loan and an Economic Development Initiative grant.

Watkins and the other groups put in motion a plan five years ago to restore the nearly 145-year-old building, once a staple of Jackson’s social scene. Watkins recounted the first time he pitched the idea to Gov. Haley Barbour.

“I can’t repeat exactly what he told me, but he asked me a question about being out of my mind,” Watkins said, drawing laughter from the crowd gathered across the street from the King Edward at Union Station.

From its rocky beginning in the Governor’s Office, the idea took hold, with Watkins spreading the message and eventually bringing in HRI and McAllister.

“I’m a Jacksonian,” Watkins said, explaining his pursuit of the project.

All told, there are 28 construction or reclamation projects underway in downtown Jackson. The rebirth of Fondren, the Capital City Convention Center and Old Capitol Green gain mention at every public event concerning economic development in the area.

But the King Edward is different. Previous attempts to bring the King Edward back to money-making life have failed. Pres Kabacoff was a part of one of those efforts in 1990.

“When this neighborhood is completed,” Kabacoff said, alluding to the restoration of the Standard Life Building and other structures adjacent to the King Edward, “you will have a vibrant, creative neighborhood to add to your capitol.”

Barbour never misses an opportunity to point out all the work being done in downtown Jackson. The King Edward, though, carries extra weight. Economic development officials and political leaders have said repeatedly that the King Edward is the cornerstone of the downtown’s redevelopment, with another $1 billion worth of planning going on that will create a historic district downtown.

“This is part of something much bigger,” Barbour said. “But (the King Edward) is the most symbolic. This will be the one we remember most. If Jackson doesn’t do well, our state doesn’t do well.”

“This is a catalyst for downtown and West Jackson,” said Jackson Mayor Frank Melton.

Leland Speed, the former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, was a behind-the-scenes authority in securing state and federal grants for the project.

Coaxed to the podium by Watkins during the ceremony, Speed said the King Edward could be one of two things.

“This is either going to be a tombstone or a monument to our success. And it’s a monument to our success.”

And with that, the crowd went wild.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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