GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Gulfport wants to take ownership of the historic Markham Hotel in downtown, but the owner promises that it won't happen without a court fight. This week, Mayor George Schloegel won the city council's approval to begin eminent domain proceedings.
The Markham Hotel was built back in the 1920s and in its heyday was a hot spot for parties. Over the years, it slipped into disrepair and Hurricane Katrina turned the Markham into what the mayor calls a dangerous eyesore. He described continuing problems of vagrants, rodents, as well as an infestation of algae from where Katrina ripped off the roof.
Beverly Hobbs, a Gulfport resident, is ready to see some improvement.
"It's been over five years and they haven't done anything with it and it's sitting there. [If] it's an eyesore, then we need to do something with it," Hobbs said.
Gulfport is looking to take the property by eminent domain. What would happen to the historic building after that is still to be determined.
Mayor George Schloegel said, "We don't want to tear it down. We don't want the owner to tear it down. If we have to, I guess that's a second option, but the better option is to do something with it."
"The owner doesn't seem to be motivated to do anything. We have sent the owner at least eight potential purchasers and nothing comes from that. We've tried to do everything we could now we say we're ready to take this next step. "
The Markham's part owner, Michael Eckstein, accuses Gulfport of slowing down repairs by denying permits for repairs including a new roof. The New Orleans attorney also said it's not easy to secure investors right now.
"We are taking steps," said Eckstein. "We are talking to developers and have been very active. We would like to be moving quicker, but the economy is very difficult right now."
Eckstein said he and his partners will challenge eminent domain action in court.
The mayor said even in a tight budget year, the city can't afford to sit on its hands.
"We don't see Gulfport making a long term investment of any taxpayers money," said Mayor Schloegel. "We would see that if Gulfport gets it under eminent domain some of those investors that wanted to buy it would be given the opportunity to buy it. We would try to flip it and recoup our money. The main thing we want to do is get it out of the status quo."
Gulfport officials said they haven't received an appraisal yet that would tell them how much buying the Markham would cost the city.
To watch last year's public hearing on the Markham, click here.
Did you know?
- The Markham Hotel opened its doors on January 31, 1927 on 14th Street.
- The hotel was named for Charles H. Markham, a former president of the Illinois Central Railroad.
- On opening night, a grand event was planned that included an orchestra borrowed from the Roosevelt Blue Room in New Orleans.
- A grand stairway swept patrons from the lobby to the mezzanine for dinner in an elegant, formal dining room.
- The pool was a favorite summertime spot for children in the Markham's popular swimming club.
- A rooftop garden was completed shortly after the hotel opened.
- The Security Savings and Loan Co. acquired the building in the 1960s. A few years later, in 1970, the Markham Hotel was shutdown and its contents were auctioned off.
- The Markham was renovated at least twice through the years and operated as an office building for several decades.
- Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Markham in 2005. New Orleans attorney Michael Eckstein purchased the building after the storm and it has been left untouched ever since.
(Information Source: Misspreservation.com and City of Gulfport archives)