By Cheryl Lasseter
The people renovating the King Edward Hotel in Jackson opened up their building Thursday. Officials donned hard hats and broke ground inside the structure.
"I've said more than once that that building will either be a tombstone to the city or a monument to its success," said Leland Speed, former executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, at Thursday's event. "It's a monument to its success."
Speed says after 41 years of hard work the King Edward project is finally gaining momentum. Governor Haley Barbour and First Lady Marsha say tangible renovation work is now taking place.
"I can't tell you how many times we've walked by or she's come back from walking, and saying, 'I can't tell they're doing anything at the King Edward,'" the governor said.
But inside the lobby, dust has been cleared and intricate architecture is peeking through to reveal what's to come. The lobby's original marble floor, thought to be beyond repair, was buried under three feet of rubble. Developers say all it needs is a good buffing.
A handful of those who have stuck with the project were thrilled to break symbolic ground inside the lobby on Thursday.
"It's a lot of hard work," said developer David Watkins. "$90 million is a lot of money, but these things are very complex and difficult."
Some who came along for the groundbreaking have seen this hotel live and die.
"I started coming when I was 8 and came all the way to 1959, when I graduated from high school," said Sandra Burns. "We would come in and be awed by the lobby."
Burns, who now lives in Laurel, is looking forward to the rebirth. But others can't wait to enjoy its grandeur for the first time.
The structure is expected to open next summer as a 186-room Hilton Garden Inn with restaurants, retail, two swimming pools, office space and apartments.