Monroe City Councilman Micheal Echols and his wife have been on a private crusade to do what others have tried and failed, revive downtown Monroe.
Downtown Monroe was once the center of commerce in the city and began a slow decline with the opening of the Twin City Mall, followed by the opening of the Pecanland Mall.
The exodus of major businesses to strip malls and the Pecanland Mall on Milhaven Road left the collection of historic buildings in Downtown looking like a ghost town for decades.
Slowly, Echols has been buying property, 14 buildings in all, and encouraging others to invest in downtown with promises of success where others have failed.
Others tried to locate businesses downtown and failed because of a lack of traffic. Some tried the idea of focusing on developing a River Front that would attract tourists. That helped, but did not succeed in reviving the area.
Then developers added the key ingredient: housing.
The new plan is to convert many of the historic buildings in the Downtown area into condominiums and lofts and to add boutiques and other spinoffs that will service hundreds of people who will live in the downtown area.
Echols, a real estate developer and director of business development for Vantage Health Plan, is a driving force behind the Downtown Development.
Monday, Echols and his wife Christie, announced that even more is coming to downtown: A Hilton Boutique Hotel is on its way.
Echols has worked out a franchise agreement with the Tapestry Collection by Hilton to open the Hotel Monroe in downtown. It will feature 69 rooms and over 10,000 square feet of event and meeting rooms.
Echols said Hotel Monroe is the next piece of the puzzle to revive downtown because it will attract Monroe residents, but because of the Hilton name, will draw people from across the country.
The former Poolside Shop and Southern Hardware building will combine and consist of over 70,000 square feet of restored and newly constructed facility. The Poolside Shop building was originally built in 1891 as the Sugar Brothers Grocery and Opera House. The opera house space will be converted to the hotel’s largest ballroom with over 5,000 square feet.
Echols is also renovating the former S.H. Kress Department Store building next door. It will also feature retail downstairs and six apartments above.
The major catalyst in the downtown revival is the presence of Vantage Health Plan’s Headquarters in the old State House Building. The company has renovated the old Virginia Hotel and pushed the development of loft residences in what were office buildings downtown.
Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together as other investors see the wisdom of downtown investment strategies that combine residences, shops, hotels and the riverfront to eventually mean that Downtown will live again, and will prosper.
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Echols Announces New Hilton Coming