Jackson County

Burned hotel ‘will look dramatically different’ in a few months, officials say

People will soon see action at the old burned and rotting Howard Johnson’s, known as the “hideous” hotel.

Things are about to change, officials say, definitely within the next three months.

Jackson County supervisors voted Monday to declare the three-story structure a menace to public health. That’s a very specific designation that allows them to start a demolition and charge the cost to the landowner.

One catch is that the county is limited by state law to spending $20,000 on the project, and county planners know that won’t be enough.

Bids are coming in with all sorts of options, but what Jackson County likely will need is a way to do the work in phases — demolition up front, perhaps, and then hauling it off in other phases.

Because the hotel burned, it can’t be hauled to the nearby county landfill. It will have to go somewhere that accepts burned material, which might cost extra.

There are parts of it, concrete in particular, that can be recycled.

So the challenge is on. The county is hearing from contractors who believe they have a solution and the county is also asking the state Legislature to change the law that restricts counties to $20,000 when taking on properties that are a menace to public health. Cities can already spend more.

The hotel is caving in. Insulation, rafters and ceiling tiles have come down. Glass doors are blown out. And the property is overgrown, with an abandoned swimming pool.

Neighbors call it “horrifying” and “hideous” and say it hurts property values. It sits off North Washington Avenue, near the Ocean Springs exit at mile marker 50 on Interstate 10.

It’s sort of majestic in its decay.

County Planning Director Michele Coats said since county supervisors voted on Monday, she and planners have been trying to “firm up what we can do with $20,000.”

Several contractors have said, “’I can do it this way for this much,’” she said. “We think we can get it down. Disposal is the problem.”

“We don’t know what it will look like, until we can figure out,” she said. “By Thanksgiving, it likely will look dramatically different.”

Planners will come back to the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 21 with a plan.

Until recently, the county’s hands had been tied by wrangling in federal court over who owned the hotel. It’s still not clear how the county will get its money back once it’s torn down, but county Supervisor Troy Ross has said he is determined the county will pick from a number of options and move forward.