By JACK WEATHERLY
The Mississippi Heritage Trust says it has gotten a “stay” of demolition of the Sun-n-Sand Motel in downtown Jackson.
The historic structure was bought in early 2019 by the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, which has plans to raze the building and increase parking space for government workers.
But the Heritage Trust rallied support for saving the motel by circulating a petition that was signed by 2,600 people and presented to the Department of Archives and History.
The department voted on Friday to designate the motel a historic landmark and gave the Heritage Trust till June 1 “to get something serious on the table,” trust spokeswoman Erica Speed said in a telephone message left with the Mississippi Business Journal.
“We have a developer with a buyer ready to go. We also have a . . . grant to conduct a feasibility study,” Speed said.
The motel was opened in 1960 by legendary Mississippi businessman Dumas Milner and was frequented by lawmakers who often hashed out legislation in private before voting in public.
When the Legislature legalized liquor in 1965, “the Sun-n-Sand was one of the first bars to open in Jackson,” the Trust said in an earlier statement “Some legislators were voting dry and drinking wet” at the motel’s bar, the Trust said.
Famed Mississippi author Willie Morris wrote some of his book “My Cat Spit McGee” at the motel and noted it as the site of “many years [of] egregious political wheeling and dealing, not to mention secretive trysts.” The motel was closed in 2001.
“We’re not advocating any one particular use,” Lolly Rash, executive director of the Heritage Trust, said in an interview in December. “We just want what’s best for the city of Jackson.”
Chuck McIntosh, spokesman for the Department of Finance and Administration, said in an earlier comment that several developers approached the agency but did not pursue the matter. The agency plans to preserve the distinct Las-Vegas-style motel sign.
As a Historic Landmark, the motel’s fate is held by the DAH board. Demolition then would require a permit from the agency.
The DAH board ruled on Friday that the Department of Finance and Administration can demolish the structure as long as the Sun-n-Sand sign is preserved and enough salvageable material is left to be used to build a guard station. Also, the board said the DF&A “is encouraged to determine if there are qualified real estate developers who would be willing to develop [the] property into a facility that is commercially viable. . . .”
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