|By Leighanne Lockhart, The Sun
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 23--PASCAGOULA -- A groundbreaking was held Monday for Pascagoula's first large-scale flag hotel at the site of the old LaFont Inn at U.S. 90 and Hospital Road.
The $25 million Hilton Garden Inn, planned for two years, is expected to be completed by early 2014, developer Gentry Williams said.
Williams said the old LaFont Inn needed renovations that would cost several million dollars, and a need was recognized for a state-of-the-art hotel due to the large industries in the area such as Chevron and Ingalls.
The new Hilton Garden Inn will include 6,000 square feet of convention space along with a restaurant, bar, pool, jacuzzi and fitness center. It will have 119 beds in contrast with the 180 beds at the old Lafont motel, which was built in the 1960s. Williams said a market study was conducted to determine the number of beds needed along with other amenities.
Several community leaders were present including State Sen. Brice Wiggins, Mayor Robbie Maxwell and councilmen, and City Manager Joe Huffman.
Wiggins said he is excited to see this project come to fruition and it's a "great boost for the city of Pascagoula."
"The citizens of this community deserved a first-rate hotel that would attract business people as well as families. I commend the developers for seeing this project through as well as the city of Pascagoula," Wiggins said.
Julian MacQueen, CEO and founder of Innisfree Hotels, the company that will manage Hilton Garden Inn, said the city is "screaming for a full-service hotel."
"We want to bring back what the old LaFont hotel used to offer and more. It will serve as an anchor for weddings, ceremonies and business meetings," MacQueen said. "This will be a landmark for Pascagoula and is a reflection of the creativity, tenacity, organizing, financing and planning of this group of people who took a huge risk to invest in a $20-plus million project during some of the worst economic times."
MacQueen said every dollar spent on a hotel room turns over an average of six times in the community, leading to the potential for this project to have a $60 million impact.
Maxwell reflected on the old LaFont motel and how it was a special spot for police officers to meet for coffee.
Contractor Steve Case wrapped up the ceremony with a simple, "It's been a long time coming, and we're ready to get started."
Owners of the new Hilton Garden Inn are Roy Williams, Ed Trehern, Morris Strickland and Dana Foster.
Trehern said the project is being funded on personal equity, banks, new market tax credits, EB5 monies, SBA and an MBA grant.
"This is exciting not just for me but for the city as it changes the perception and improves the Highway 90 corridor," Trehern said. "The hotel should be an anchor of ignition for more progression."
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