Delta developer takes role in Natchez project
By Jack Criss
Yazoo City businessman and developer, Hayes Dent, is part of a developing team–one of whom is the owner of the property–that has taken on the restoration and reopening of the iconic Eola Hotel in Natchez. Randy Roth, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his company, Endeavour Corporation, is the lead developer and has worked with Dent on other projects in the past. A formal announcement was made on-site in August.
“Among other renovations and additions, we’re going to put in a 300-car parking garage at the hotel site,” says Dent. “And, we’ll be using new market tax credits and historic tax credits to fund the project. Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson and the team in his office have been incredibly helpful and supportive as well. We started this project almost a year ago and the Eola Hotel renovation is a major part of Natchez’s incredible comeback which was just recently called one of the fastest growing economies in the state of Mississippi by the Mississippi Development Authority.”
Dent, who has worked in hotel development in the past, fondly recalls meetings he attended at the Eola Hotel while a staffer with Governor Kirk Fordice which led him to get involved with the historic preservation to begin with.
“Plus, I have always loved Natchez,” he admits. “So, it was a natural fit for me to get involved.”
Located in downtown Natchez on 110 North Pearl Street, the hotel was built for the Natchez Investment Corporation under the leadership of Leon M. Levy and Isidore Levy, for whose daughter the hotel was named. On the day of the grand opening on July 1, 1927, The Natchez Democrat headlines hailed the hotel as a great “symbol of civic progress.” The New Orleans architectural firm of Weiss, Dreyfous and Seiferth designed the building which was built by New Orleans contractors J. V. and R. T. Burkes.
At a height of seven stories, the Eola Hotel towers over downtown Natchez where most of the commercial buildings are two stories tall. The building has a structural metal frame with floors and partitions made of reinforced concrete.
“It was, and is, the Ground Zero of Natchez,” says Dent. “It’s the anchor of downtown Natchez and was its shining star–we think it will be again.”
The original 125 rooms of the hotel were typical in size and finish for the 1920s, but the principal floor is one of the grandest public spaces in the city and will remain so, says Dent. The grand lobby, which is two-stories tall and encircled by a mezzanine on three sides, features paneled pilasters and free-standing box columns of the Composite order.
The Eola Hotel closed in 1974 due to increased competition from motels on bypasses and the need to make substantial repairs. For almost a decade, the Eola Hotel stood as a monument to a deteriorating historic downtown and remained unoccupied. It reopened in 1982 after a major renovation designed by Perez and Associates of New Orleans with Charles Moore, a leader in the postmodern movement, serving as consulting architect. However, the hotel closed in late 2014.
“We’re very excited to be a part of this project and its reopening,” says Dent. “We aim to retain the old charm of the original Eola and are looking at having approximately seventy-two guest rooms along with meeting areas and the renowned Dickie Brennan from New Orleans is going to be partnering with us on handling the food and bar for the hotel. We’re also talking with both Hilton and Marriott to partner with us in reservation assistance and service systems to be a part of their company while retaining the original style of the Eola.”
The expectation is to reopen the Eola in the spring of 2023.