By JACK WEATHERLY
Chawla Hotels has answered reports that its most ambitious hotel project in the Delta has been stalled for months with reassurances that the $21 million project in Cleveland is still on go.
Since the Delta-based hotel operation signed a deal with the Trump hotel organization in June on the Cleveland hotel – originally called the Lyric and now called the Scion – the project’s plans have had to undergo major revisions, according to Suresh Chawla, president and chief executive.
In an email to the Mississippi Business Journal on Wednesday, he said: “We continue to stay committed to our SCION and American IDEA hotel projects and have been working diligently and collaboratively with the Trump team in New York and our local teams in Cleveland to create the very best experience for our future guests.”
Before the Trump organization reached out to Chawla last June “we originally planned a very different project — the former Lyric Hotel & Spa. As such, we have made significant modifications to our plans that were functional, experiential and cost-saving. Much of the work that has been done to date has been in the planning-phase. Construction will begin in January 2018.
“We are looking forward to the renovations of existing hotels into refurbished, like-new American Idea Hotels in 2018.
“We were contractually not able to start renovations until previous franchise agreements lapsed. By this summer we will have two American Idea Hotels open in the Mississippi Delta.”
The Trump organization selected Chawla for the first three properties in its new mid-market chain, American Idea. Chawla properties in Cleveland, Clarksdale and Greenville will be rebranded and managed by the Trump group.
Suresh Chawla was introduced to Donald Trump, who made a campaign stop in June 2016 in Jackson.
Gov. Phil Bryant, a staunch supporter of the candidate, had heard about an incident in 1988 V.K. Chawla,who owned a convenience store in Greenwood contacted the Trump hotel group to see if the billionaire developer would help him get started.
Trump called him at his store and encouraged his ambitions and suggested that he apply for a Small Business Association minority loan. The elder Chawla did, and the first of 18 Delta hotels owned by the family was opened.
Trump was reminded of that story at the campaign stop. He encouraged Suresh Chawla to “think grand.”
And so the Chawlas doubled the cost of the project to $15 from $8 million.
Then in June 2017, the story reported in the Mississippi Business Journal about Trump’s 1988 phone call to V.K. Chawla came full circle, with the Mississippians signing a deal for the Scion, a $21 million project, overseen by the Chawlas and managed by the organization run by Trump sons Donald Jr. and Eric.
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