The clock is ticking on efforts to save the Sun-N-Sand Motor Hotel in downtown Jackson, following a recent vote by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) board of trustees.
Recently, the board approved naming the deteriorating structure a Mississippi Landmark.
As part of the vote, the board gave Heritage Trust and the state five months to find a developer for the site. If a developer can’t be found, DFA will have the authority to tear it down.
“What happened was a stay of demolition, and it gives us time to make a case to save the property,” said Lolly Rash, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust.
The board voted 6-1 to approve a resolution granting landmark status and to grant the state permission to tear down the facility after June 1.
The resolution encourages the state to “determine if there are qualified real estate developers who would be willing to redevelop the Sun-N-Sand into a facility that is commercially viable,” Rash stated.
Former board of trustees Chair Kane Ditto voted in favor of the resolution. Ditto’s term just expired, with the January meeting being his last.
He said the board’s decision was a victory for the Heritage Trust, but also “recognizes the case the state has made, that it has no use for the property now and needs to covert it to a parking lot.”
Ditto, who supports saving the facility, said the resolution was significant, because it gives developers who are interested time to come forward to make a case for redeveloping it.
“We put it in the hands of the developers, the Heritage Trust and all who are in favor of preservation,” he said. “I hope the state takes a serious look at it.”
The Sun-N-Sand falls under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration.
DFA had hoped to raze the facility by May 2020 but said it would listen to developers interested in saving it.
“During the next several months, DFA intends to meet with any interested developers and provide access to the building for their evaluation,” said Chuck McIntosh, DFA director of communications.
Several developers have shown interest in the site, but previous owners had been unwilling to talk to them.
Rash said the facility has potential to be redeveloped as “efficiency apartments for college students,” or could go back to its original use – a home away from home for state lawmakers while they’re in the capital city.
“I think the building is well designed, and with minimal changes, it could meet current needs in Jackson,” she said. “I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”
Before any action could be taken to redevelop the site, though, DFA would have to get approval from the legislature.
“We’re fortunate the legislature is in session now,” Rash said. “if they moved forward with the legislation to allow that, it would be great.”
Rash said the Heritage Trust is now reaching out to lawmakers about introducing legislation that would allow DFA to sell the site or enter into a public-private partnership with a developer to redevelop the motel.
The session began in January. Deadline to introduce bills is Monday, February 24, according to the House and Senate calendar. The deadline for bills to come out of committee is Tuesday, March 10.
“No bill has been introduced yet. They have time, if they’re willing to,” she said.
Northside lawmakers have differing opinions on the future of the site.
District 29 Sen. David Blount supports selling the property for private development and having it go back on the tax rolls.
District 25 Sen. Walter Michel said the building should come down. “There’s nothing historic about it. It’s been sitting there for 10 years, decaying,” he said. “It’s an eyesore.”
The state purchased the property in 2019 specifically with plans to tear it down for parking.
“The need for parking arises from both the desire to discontinue long-term leasing of parking in favor of owning our own lots,” McIntosh explained.
The state currently pays about $220,000 a year to lease parking around the complex. “The additional parking will allow us to increase occupancy … by 150 to 160 occupants,” he said.
The motel is located on Lamar Street, in the Capitol Complex. It was opened by the late Dumas Milner in 1960.
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. It has been closed since 2001.