Meridian Star

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November 16, 2008

Downtown dilemma

Weighing the pros and cons

By Jennifer Jacob Brown

Local hotel magnate Abdul Lala has given the City of Meridian a choice — but he hasn't made it an easy one.

A couple of months ago, Meridian's choice was between pursuing the Threefoot hotel project and, well, not doing anything at all. Now, the choice is between the Threefoot project and a brand new downtown hotel constructed by Lala.

The reason: Lala says he can't build his hotel unless the city foregoes plans to turn the Threefoot into a hotel.

With the Threefoot project, the city could take advantage of a proposal by developer HRI Properties to restore the long blighted Threefoot Building, which has a high sentimental value for many Meridianites. HRI would transform the building into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel designed to complement the conference facilities at Meridian's crown jewel of historic preservation, the MSU-Riley Center for the Performing Arts.

The Threefoot hotel would be part of a larger Urban Renewal Plan which would include a renovation of the Kress building - also of emotional and historic significance - into a 1,000 person capacity banquet hall and arts hall of fame sometime in the future. The plan also includes the transformation of the area between the Threefoot building and City Hall into a landscaped park, and there are even tentative plans for a possible new library and art museum further down the road.

Oh yeah - and on top of all that, you know the old dilapidated parking garage on 23rd avenue? With the Threefoot project, it will be singing its swan song to the tune of a wrecking ball. If constructed according to schedule, the hotel would open as soon as September 2010.

This all sounds great, but of course there's a catch. The city would have to contribute to the project a loan of up to $14 million in taxpayer money. And for the larger Urban Renewal Plan to be completed, the city would have to find private investors and organizations willing to jump on board. If the city decides not to pursue the hotel project and gets no other Threefoot development offers, it would have to spend $3 to $5 million non-refundable dollars demolishing the building.

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