Austin developer preparing unsolicited proposal for Jackson convention center hotel

JACKSON, Mississippi — Tampa’s Robinson Callen Development may soon have company in a quest to build a convention center hotel in Jackson.

While Robinson Callen has a head start with its unsolicited $60 million proposal having received an official blessing from the Jackson Redevelopment Authority’s Board of Commissioners on June 25, Austin, Texas, hotel developer Journeyman Austin wants to submit a proposal as well.

Journeyman Austin’s Jackson representative, Don Hewitt of Advanced Technologies Building Solutions, said Journeyman is preparing an unsolicited proposal to submit to Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, who was passed the Robinson Callen proposal by former Mayor Harvey Johnson on his way out of office. Latrice Westbrooks, interim spokeswoman for Lumumba, said the new mayor’s willingness to consider a competing proposal could hinge on the window that is in place for action on the Robinson Callen bid.

Not much has been disclosed publicly about the Robinson Callen proposal other than the company plans to build a 12-floor hotel and surface parking lot on 14 acres across Pascagoula Street from the Jackson Convention Complex, The City regained the 14 acres from hotel developer Transcontinental Realty of Dallas after its years of trying to get a hotel built came to naught.

Robinson Callen has also pledged to limit the City’s financial stake to $9 million in loans the company would access if room occupancies fell short of projections during the first five years of operation.

Further specifics, including the occupancy projections that would trigger the loans, have remained under lock and key at the Jackson Redevelopment Authority. The JRA’s interim executive director, Willie Mott, denied a Mississippi Business Journal Open Records law request for the development agreement with Robinson Callen the JRA governing board executed on June 25.

Mott previously said the agreement was undergoing a legal review but in a July 8 letter rejecting the open records request, he said the agreement is incomplete. However, he conceded in the same letter the JRA board has authorized “execution” of the agreement.

The MBJ views the refusal to release an agreement executed in public session a violation of the Mississippi Open Records law.

Though Journeyman Austin has not seen the Robinson Callen development proposal, the company thinks it can present an attractive proposal that would offer features such as a parking garage and neighboring retail, said Hewitt, who added he suspects the proposal remains secret as a way to prevent another developer such as Journeyman from knowing the proposal’s strengths and weaknesses.

Hewitt’s firm partnered with Journeyman Austin in November 2011 on a convention hotel proposal that competed with the Transcontinental Realty proposal. The City Council later shelved both proposals but promised Journeyman Austin it could submit a new proposal once the city revived the project.

Robert Gallup, VP of Journeyman Austin, said in a late June interview that he was “taken aback” by the city’s dropping of its previous pledge of issuing a new Request for Proposals.

“It’s frustrating,” Gallup said. “We would love to respond.”

Gallup said his company could get a proposal ready within 14 days. “We’re ready to go,” he said.

Hewitt could not say for certain that the Journeyman’s cost for building the hotel complete with a parking structure and retail would come in at or close to Robinson Callen’s $60 million estimate. “We’re going to leave the final cost numbers up to Journeyman,” he said, acknowledging that like Robinson Callen’s, Journeyman’s proposal would require some public dollars.

Hewitt said he has received no indications from Mayor Lumumba’s office that a Journeyman proposal would get a look. “I have no real expectations,” he said. “I would love for them to consider what we are offering. We are not asking for preferential treatment. We just want to be allowed to submit a bid.”

 

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