GULFPORT -- Like so many Gulfport residents, Realtor Lenny Sawyer has grown tired of looking at the derelict Markham Hotel.
Unlike others, he has been subjected to a front-row view since late 2011, when he renovated and moved into a historic building across 14th Street from the Markham.
He is elated at the prospect the derelict hotel, where he enjoyed his first alcoholic beverage as a young man, is about to be sold to
a Virginia attorney who plans extensive renovations.
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Attorney Robert Lubin, who has lined up investors for many projects in the past 24 years, said he plans to maintain the Markham's historic integrity in the renovation. Lubin said he hopes to take advantage of historic tax credits, but the state tax-credit pool has dwindled to the point that a vote of the state Legislature is needed this session to replenish it.
Sawyer, principal of NAI Sawyer, said Lubin is set to close on the property any day. Sawyer represents the owners of vacant land on the south side of the Markham. All told, the property amounts to 2.5 acres, Sawyer said.
Sawyer's business is in what was originally the H.G. Hill Stores Super Food Market. The Markham towers over his end of the street.
"That thing's built like Fort Knox," he said of the 1927 hotel building. "If he (Lubin) will go in and spend the money like we did on our building, it will really be one of the jewels in the necklace of the Mississippi Gulf Coast."
"This place used to be THE place," Sawyer said as he strolled around it Wednesday in a brisk, chilly wind. "When we had parties, we had them here. There was a swimming pool here for the community and we learned to swim here. We also had our first drink here."
Those days are long gone. The Markham is boarded up. A homeless man could be seen burrowed into a sleeping bag in an alcove on the building's west side.
"In the summer, when the wind's blowing out of the southeast, it has a terrible smell -- the water coming through the roof and all that," Sawyer said. "It will be a great day to see Mr. Lubin come to town and fix this place up."
Mayor Billy Hewes said he hopes Lubin will renovate it for apartments. New restaurants and bars have flourished downtown since post-Katrina grants funded restoration of historic building façades, landscaping and other improvements. City leaders believe downtown residents would draw retail and other development.
"There are a lot of people that lost their homes in and around this area in Katrina," Sawyer said. "They're like me; they're old. They don't want to build back. It would be nice to have a place downtown where they could walk to get to these beautiful restaurants and have coffee in the morning. ... It's just a great environment, downtown Gulfport."