It’s a boom time for the hotel industry. That’s according to Sunny Desai, President and CEO of Desai Hotel Group, who was on hand this week for Fondren Renaissance’s monthly Happy Hour.
Desai stopped by to give an update on the progress of the Whitney Place Hampton Inn he is building along with Whitney Place Developers David Pharr and Jason Watkins.
The current status? Waiting for review by Hilton Worldwide Brands, the flagship that oversees the Hampton brand. Desai said their plans for Fondren are in the stack, “backed up,” he explained, by projects elsewhere that began ahead of his.
A question came up about restaurant and retail tenants and the Jackson-based developer was very clear: “We’re looking for the right operator (for the restaurant), someone to bring value to the project,” he said. “We want the right fit because the restaurant is the cherry on top.” At the onset, when the hotel was announced earlier this year, Pharr spoke of “a yet-to-be-named local restaurant” to occupy the mid-rise hotel’s top floor. Desai said they’re full steam ahead with that plan.
As for retail, Desai told they have received “a couple of verbal commitments, all local.” “We’re trying to find local first and we want to be very careful about doing that. The beauty is we have time. It’s a 14 month time frame to build out the hotel.”
Desai understands the sensitivity of a place like Fondren, a neighborhood whose residents are very protective of the makeup of shops and eateries. “The neighborhood is at a boiling point and everyone wants to be here, so we want to be careful,” he maintained. “Roy (Decker, who has a separate hotel plan down the street) and I have a vision for quality. And we know it’s a long process to get there, but it will be worth it at the end.”
If all goes according to schedule, Desai hopes for an August groundbreaking.
Just south of the future site of the Whitney Place Hampton Inn, Roy Decker is in a similar situation, ready to begin site work after final approvals from the necessary parties for The Fondren, a nine-story Starwood Aloft branded hotel. “Our site plan was approved two months ago, and last week got the City of Jackson signatures it needed,” he said this week. “Our Tax Incentive Fund (TIF) has been approved and we have the needed sign-offs from the state, county and city.” He added, “We’re working right along with the Starwood folks and are full steam ahead for a September groundbreaking.”
The growing pains of so much construction at once has business owners and residents asking about parking with the increase of construction worker traffic. Both Desai and Decker assured they have a plan in place that does not displace normal Fondren parking and traffic while their projects are under construction. As well, both reiterated plans for more than adequate parking to be built for their respective hotel projects.
August 2017 update: These projects have yet to break ground. A new timetable has not been made available for either.