Sun-N-Sand's future in hands of MDAH

By ANTHONY WARREN,

The future of a historic hotel building in downtown Jackson is now in the hands of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s (MDAH) board of trustees and will likely be decided next month.

At a recent meeting, the board voted to consider granting landmark status to the Sun-N-Sand Motor Hotel at its January 24 meeting.

The move came after nearly 2,700 people signed a petition in support of granting the facility the protective status, a move that could delay the state’s plans to raze it and build a parking deck in its place.

The state purchased the facility earlier this year and announced plans to tear it down. The decision has rankled thousands of people, who say the historic facility should be left alone or renovated, much like the King Edward was.

Others say parking is needed and the facility should be torn down. Some still say the building should be replaced with new private development and be put back on the tax rolls.

The Mississippi Heritage Trust supports saving the building and redeveloping it.

In October, the nonprofit asked the archives to declare it a landmark.

During the 30-day public comment period, the agency launched a petition drive via Change.org to garner support for the request. At press time, the petition had been closed and some 2,686 people had signed on in favor of it. 

Erica Speed, special projects coordinator for the heritage trust, said the petition should send a powerful message to trustees.

“A lot of people are behind doing something other than demolishing it,” she said.

Even with landmark status, the facility could still be in danger of being torn down.

“At times, landmarks have been torn down because they could not be saved,” said Board of Trustees President Kane Ditto.

However, any efforts to demolish it would have to be reviewed by the MDAH staff and then approved by trustees.

Ditto wouldn’t say whether he supported granting the status.

According to the petition, the next step should be conducting a historic structures report detailing its current condition. From there, the state should issue a call for proposals to redevelop the “modernist” site.

“We want a more thorough review of the property,” said Lolly Rash, executive director of the heritage trust.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba also supports preserving the space, at least for the time being, to see if it could be redeveloped, according to Director of Communications Candice Cole.

Rash said numerous builders have contacted the heritage trust about the site.

The trust has directed them to the Sun-N-Sand’s former owner, Sidney Mack. Mack, though, had been unwilling to sell the facility, Rash explained.

Developers have been interested in the site, in part, because they could likely access numerous federal and state tax incentives for redeveloping it.

Mack, though, was not interested in selling until earlier this year, when he sold it to the state for a little more than $1 million.

For its part, the state plans to demolish it and turn the site into additional parking for state employees.

District 29 Sen. David Blount, chair of the Senate’s Public Property Committee, would like to see the property sold to a private developer and put back on the tax rolls. He would not say whether the building should be demolished.

District 25 Sen. Walter Michel supports demolishing it. “There’s nothing historic about it. It’s been sitting there for 10 years, decaying,” he said. “It’s an eyesore.”

Michel added that the state needs the additional parking, a statement backed up by Chuck McIntosh, director of communications with the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration (DFA).

“The need for parking arises from both the desire to discontinue long-term leasing of parking in favor of owning our own lots,” McIntosh said.

The state currently pays about $220,000 a year to lease parking.

He said the parking is also needed, because more workers are going to be housed at the nearby Woolfolk State Office Building.

“The additional parking will allow us to increase occupancy … by 150 to 160 occupants,” he said.

Michel pointed to the fact that the former hotel had been one of the few properties around the Mississippi Capitol Building not currently owned by the state.

“The sign is unique. Maybe they could save the sign,” he said.

The iconic yellow sign sits in front of the hotel. Behind it, is a two-story facility with boarded up hotel rooms.

The Lamar Street hotel was opened by the late Dumas Miller in 1960. The facility was named for another motel he owned in Biloxi, according to the Mississippi Business Journal.

The facility was a home away from home for many state lawmakers during the session and was a hub for civic clubs, who would meet at the Sun-N-Sand’s restaurant.

Michel said lawmakers were still living there when he was first elected to the Mississippi House in 1991. He remembers a big end-of-the-session party there in 1992.

The hotel has been closed since 2001 and was acquired by Mack and Lamar Properties in 2005, MBJ reports.

The MDAH board of trustees is a nine-member board with members appointed by the board and approved by the Mississippi Senate.

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