Wednesday, May 4, 2005
New Orleans' Saints running back Deuce McAllister last week joined the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce and the Mississippi Development Authority for a ribbon-cutting of Deuce McAllister Enterprises at Union Station. McAllister, with HRI Properties, has invested in the renovation of the King Edward Hotel and is also opening a Nissan car dealership in the southern portion of the city. Deuce McAllister Motors, in particular, will be supplying 50 new jobs in Jackson, according to the Chamber. The pre-owned grand opening kick-off will happen in June, followed by a launch of the new car franchise in December.
McAllister said he was happy to open a business in Jackson and that he had confidence in the success of the ventures. He also offered his arguments on why the King Edward, long a wind-whistling eyesore at the edge of the downtown section, was a good investment. McAllister said his initial interest had been in the Standard Life building, but had that target snatched away by the city's need to temporarily house its police department.
"My greatest interest was the Standard Life Building ... so next we looked at the King Edward, and it was kind of by accident that I bumped into the guys at HRI in New Orleans. Once I met with them (the project) flew from there," McAllister said.
The King Edward has a long, lurid history behind it. In 1861 Maj. R.O. Edwards, founder of the town of Edwards, built a three-story hotel on the corner of Capitol and Mill streets called the Confederate House. Gen. William T. Sherman burned it down in 1863. Edwards began rebuilding the hotel but died before it reopened as the Edwards House in 1868. From that point on, the hotel became a lodging place for many big names coming into the state from across the country. It was also a stay spot for state legislators, who, according to Sen. Henry Kirksey, knew that the hotel rules would be lax regarding their practices—namely the distribution of whiskey during the dry early portions of the 20th century.
"The only time blacks were allowed in the place was when they were carrying an illegal crate of whiskey," Kirksey said, and adds that it was the end of segregation that eventually killed the hotel in 1967, along with suburban expansion and increased competition.
Today, the 12-story hotel offers a stark contrast to the new red bricks and glass of the Union Station, which sits at its feet. The ghosts of failure seemed to have haunted the place for decades. Developers have sought to turn the hotel into an apartment complex for the elderly, a federal housing project, a medical clinic, a children's museum, an outlet mall, a casino and a state office complex.
Numerous mayors have regarded the King Edward as an embodiment of the city's ongoing battle with blight, calling it key to revitalizing the western side of downtown Jackson. "Traveling everywhere as a football player you get to see a lot of progress in downtowns across America," McAllister said. "You think of St. Louis and New Orleans. The downtown really drives their city. You look at a smaller scale at Memphis. Their downtown makes that city go. There's good cause for investment."