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Smart Decisions Breathe Life Into A Community

By Mickey Howley
WVMSA Director

Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the parent organization of the Main Street movement, named the Sun-n-Sand Motor Hotel in Jackson as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2020. That’s a big deal.
The hotel is right behind the Woolfolk Building, the government building erected in 1949 in art deco style and later renovated   by Carothers Construction. Built in 1960, the Sun-n-Sand exemplifies mid-century design with its metal screens, large expanses of glass and colorful sign.  During its 40 years of operation the Sun-n-Sand was the home away from home for Mississippi legislators.  Sadly the doors were closed in 2002.
Mississippi Heritage Trust put it on the state’s list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi in 2005.  Developers have been interested in the property, but the owner, who was receiving a reported $78,000 a year from the State of Mississippi to lease the hotel’s parking lot, was unwilling to sell.
In 2019, the State of Mississippi purchased the Sun-n-Sand for a reported $1.1 million dollars and stated its intention to demolish the building to construct a parking lot.  Since that time, community leaders have been advocating for the state to consider proposals from interested developers to convert this Mississippi Landmark into apartments, live-work units, or a hotel rather than demolish it.  The threat to this modernist building is imminent, as the State of Mississippi has already received bids for demolition.  The accepted bid was $445,000, which combined with the purchase price of $1,100,000 and an estimated $550,000 to construct a 260-space asphalt surface parking lot, comes to approximately $2,095,000 or $8,057 per parking spot.
I’ll just say, being a frequent visitor to the Woolfolk building’s halls of state government power for the last dozen years, Jackson is the easiest state capital to park in. I walk less than one city block most of time, and if the legislature is in session, then maybe two blocks. Jackson needs a lot of things, but parking is not one of them.
It would be great to have a vibrant capital city, but as long as mundane Madison is the go-to place and people need quick and close parking for their five o’clock flight to the suburbs, that’s not going to happen. Keep knocking down historic buildings (yes, 1960 is historic), and Jackson will continue to have a lifeless heart ringed by nondescript blah.
It might be an apples and oranges comparison, but the City of Water Valley did not knock down the Rice–Stix building. It could have provided a lot of unneeded parking space. Plenty of people did not like the building, it was not being used, other than for storage, for decades. To the city’s credit, a level of upkeep was done on it to keep it standing. When the Water Valley Main Street Association had it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, many thought it was a futile effort.
I heard yesterday from someone at the Mississippi Development Authority, they’re the main tenant in the Woolfolk, that the word was not to park by the Sun-n-Sand. Seems the wrecking ball is coming soon. Me, I’m just glad we’re smarter than that.

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