Midtown hotels still in the works off North 40th

By HASKEL BURNS,

Although work on the two upcoming hotels in the midtown area north of Hardy Street seems to have slowed a little, progress is still underway and the projects are expected to be completed as planned.

Workers got a quick start  in early March demolishing the metal buildings at North 40th and Lundy Lane – which formerly housed businesses such as Elite Screen Printing and a small convenience store – to make way for a new $7.8 million Avid Hotel. The site has remained bare for the last few weeks, but Ginger Lowrey, planning division manager at Hattiesburg’s Urban Development Department, said the site plan has been approved and the project is on track.

“You have to have your site plan approved before you can move on to permitting, so they definitely had a permit for the demo,” she said. “I am not familiar with the permit status for the building itself, but they haven’t come back for any amendments or anything like that. So they’re approved for the design.”

The project was expected to generate approximately 75 construction jobs, and officials are hopeful work would take about 10 months – which would place the hotel being finished early next year. The facility will offer between 79 and 81 rooms, and will boast 25 to 35 full- and part-time employees.

The Avid Hotel project is the latest phase in the Chavez Square plan, which was begun by local developer Nick Welch in 2004 and eventually led to the building of businesses like The Grand 18 Theater, Mugshots Grill & Bar and the Courtyard Marriott. The cost of the project is expected to be paid with a Tax Increment Financing bond, which reallocates funds from property taxes to encourage investment within a particular district.

The Hattiesburg location will be the second Avid Hotel in the United States, with the other location in Oklahoma.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Welch said at a Hattiesburg City Council meeting in February. “It’s going to support that area with Mugshots right across the street, and you’ve got the other entertainment that’s going on.

“So I think with this development, there’s still some property that’s left that adjoins us … and I think there’s some one- or two-acre parcels left there for development, so I would assume that you could probably see maybe another restaurant or two, something like that. So it’s all pretty positive, and I’m pretty excited about it.”

More recently, council members voted 5-0 to allow a variance for four stories – rather than the current zoning that allows three stories – for a proposed Comfort Inn and Suites at the southwest corner of North 39th Avenue and Montague Boulevard. The Hattiesburg Board of Adjustment had previously voted to recommend the measure, based on a petition filed by owner B.B. Patel. Patel presented the argument that the height variance was necessitated because a three-story hotel can only accommodate 52 rooms, while a four-story hotel would allow for 66 rooms.

According to city documents, the Comfort Inn and Suites variance was granted under the Special Privilege criteria, as the “project is not financially viable at less than four stories.”

“They did receive the height variance they requested, but they have not completed the site plan review process,” Lowrey said. “So they don’t have any permits for any development, and they don’t have any approval for any development designs.”

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