Jack Ryan: Hotel not that historic

By JACK RYAN ENTERPRISE JOURNAL,

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has an excellent record of preserving the state’s history. But in considering a closed Jackson motel for a historic landmark designation, the agency is missing the mark.

The motel is the Sun-N-Sand, located on North Lamar Street a block west of the state Capitol grounds.

The Sun-N-Sand, which was open from 1960 to 2001, is best remembered as the place where many lawmakers shared a room while the Legislature was in session.

Lawmakers from that era often credited the after-hours conversations among themselves and with lobbyists for producing legislation that majorities could accept.

Given the Republican supermajorities that now run the Legislature, the horse-trading fostered by the Sun-N-Sand does have a certain nostalgic appeal to it. But that does not mean the state should try to save the run-down buildings on the property.

(In a curious aside, the motel seems poorly named, since Jackson has plenty of sun but virtually no sand. If the name sounds like it belonged on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that’s because it did: The businessman who built it named it after a popular hotel in Biloxi.)

The Associated Press reported that the Sun-N-Sand property was privately owned after it closed, but the buildings were boarded up. The state bought the property this year for $1 million and mostly uses it for employee parking.

In 2005 the Mississippi Heritage Trust put the Sun-N-Sand on its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic places, and the trust has asked Archives and History to give the property landmark status.

An honest assessment, though, should show that it’s unlikely the motel’s buildings are worth saving. The obvious questions are, how much would it cost to make them useful again, and what would they be used for?

Right now, the most appealing thing about the Sun-N-Sand is its colorful, retro business sign on North Lamar. It has survived the test of time. The motel sign has an obvious charm. The motel’s buildings, unfortunately, do not.

The land, so close to the Capitol, clearly has value. The state paid a lot of money to buy it. But if landmark status means keeping the motel buildings, the people at Archives and History should reject the idea.

If it wishes, the state could try to sell the property while making sure that the sign stays up and maintained. A developer with imagination might keep part of one building as an appropriate homage to the motel’s history, and connect new buildings to it.

But if private investors wanted the Sun-N-Sand property, somebody would have bought it already. The better move would seem to be to figure out how the state could keep the property and use it for more than a parking lot.

There have got to be a few agencies that need a new home and would benefit from the central location that the Sun-N-Sand offers.

Jack Ryan, Enterprise-Journal

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