Court-appointed receiver finding interest in former Edison Walthall Hotel
by Ted Carter
Published: October 21,2012
A court-appointed receiver is in talks with several prospective buyers of downtown Jackson’s Roberts Vista Hotel, currently shuttered and awaiting repairs from water damage.
The hotel is known more commonly in Jackson as The Walthall, for Civil War figure Edward Cary Walthall, whose name it bore upon opening 85 years ago.
As it has several times in the past, the property today is awaiting a new owner, perhaps another makeover and name change.
The 85-year-old East Capitol Street landmark is in receivership after an attempted bankruptcy filing on the property by current owners Mike and Steve Roberts, principals of Roberts Hotel Group.
Hinds County Chancery Judge William Singletary ordered the property sold after the Roberts brothers failed in a bid to liquidate their debts on the property through a federal bankruptcy filing. Singletary appointed property specialist Lee Katz of Atlanta as receiver. Katz’ task is to sell the property to help defray $7.5 million in bond debt owed Wells Fargo on the multi-story property.
Katz spent a recent Friday in Jackson talking to potential bidders. “I basically try to play ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’” said Katz, a principal of GGPartners, a venture capital/private equity firm.
“My role is to try to find somebody to buy the property,” he said, and added his goal is have “something done in three to six months,” though most hotel receiverships last 16 to 18 months.
“Will it close in three to six months? My answer is no?” he added, but noted he has three to four interested groups. He said he also is talking with a few other investors who showed interest in the hotel soon after its owners sought to put it into bankruptcy 10 months ago.
The property includes a $2.7-million garage facing Pearl Street, a restaurant, bar and gift shop.
Speculation is that the Walthall is a strong candidate for conversion to condominium, rental apartments or a combination that would also include hotel guest rooms. “Some people are looking at it as a hotel while others, because of certain tax incentives, are looking at it as a multi-purpose” conversion, Katz said.
Ben Allen, president of the public-private downtown promotional organization Downtown Jackson Partners, hopes for the hotel to remain a hotel. “We need hotel space downtown,” he said in an interview last Monday. “We can’t attract some conventions because of our hotel space.”
The hotel, he said, is historic with ample upside and no lack of interest. “I’ve got people on the phone,” he said. “These are not tire-kickers. These are real folks” with genuine interest in making a go of the hotel.
Attempts at making a go of the downtown hotel have met with mixed success over the decades. The Roberts brothers, whose St. Louis-based company also owns Jackson TV station CW34 and radio station 97.7FM WRBJ, bought the hotel in 2008 with plans to invest $10 million in upgrades. Allen said the Roberts put about $7.5 million into makeovers of some of the top floors, but the property sustained extensive water damage after water pipes burst.
Katz, the receiver, said he is unsure of the extent of the damage or the cost of repairs.
Formerly the Jackson Baking Co., the building was expanded into a hotel by adding five floors to it in 1928, according to Historic-hotels-lodges.com, whose researchers visited the hotel in 2007 and returned in 2011 to update their information.
The property opened as The Hotel Walthall. Over the following decades the Walthall fell into disrepair, and seemed well out-of-date by the 1960s, when lodgers began favoring hotels with more modern looks.
The Walthall underwent a complete remodel in 1967 to convert it into an outside-corridor design and an addition was built in the back for parking, a swimming pool and additional guest rooms, Historic-hotels-lodges.com says.
With the new look and addition came a new name: the Downtown Motor Inn. The property later became the Radisson Hotel.
By the early 1990s, the hotel again fell into disrepair. Edison Hotels bought it, and did a remodel in 1992.
The hotel regained some of its historic elegance after workers removed the modern plaster walls on the first floor only to find the original mahogany paneling behind the plaster, the historic hotel researchers report.
Edison Hotels restored the mahogany paneling and added 1920s period furnishings, including original paintings that were found in storage and re-hanged.
The owners added meeting rooms, a new ballroom and banquet kitchen to the second floor. Additional meeting rooms, along with another banquet kitchen, were added on the eighth floor, according to Historic-hotels-lodges.com.
Edison Hotels also redecorated many of the rooms and added new fixtures and furnishings, including refrigerators and microwave ovens.
Upon its reopening, the hotel carried the name The Edison Walthall Hotel.
That name remained until the Roberts brothers purchased the property and rechristened it the Roberts Vista.
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