The historic Benwalt Hotel
The historic Benwalt Hotel
A Philadelphia man is looking to bring the almost 90-year-old Benwalt Hotel building at the corner of Byrd Avenue and Myrtle Street near the high school back to life with a Christian-based ministry.

The building was constructed in 1928 and remained operational as a hotel into the late 1970s.

Neshoba County native Amina Carter of California and her family had hoped to transform the building into a cultural center but after following the death of her husband, she elected to sell the build to someone willing to take it in a new direction.

Chris Vowell, a former pastor and now head of a non-profit called the Mississippi Combine, has shown interest.

“All of this is just getting cranked up but we hope to take the old Benwalt building and get several ministries operating in there,” Vowell said.

The Combine has an office building right next door and operates a healing room, where the community can come support and pray for the sick, and a prayer night dubbed the Philadelphia House of Prayer on Tuesdays.

“Right now we are just doing Tuesday nights, but we see it as a way to bring multiple churches and denominations together during the week,” Vowell said.

He is inspired by some mammoth projects including the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Mo., which operates an essentially endless rotation of interdenominational prayer and praise services, and the Dream Center in Los Angeles, a revitalized 15-story hospital which houses nearly 220 ministries.

Rumors have circulated that the Combine wanted to put a rehab facility in the Benwalt. Vowell said they have not ruled anything out, noting they would likely start with a free clinic and go from there.

“We visited the free clinic in Carthage and we think they offer such a great service, we would like to do something similar here,” Vowell said.

The goal of the Combine is to offer office space for ministries and non-profits to operate and grow in, but before they can court tenants Vowell said they have to undergo the monolithic task of procuring the building and repairing the roof.

The owners are asking $175,000 for the building and the Combine has entered into a six-month agreement to raise money to purchase it. After acquiring the space, the Combine would be looking at a $40,000 to $50,000 roofing project and the unknown cost of renovating the interior of the building.

Vowell admits it is a lofty goal but he is optimistic based on the community support they have seen in their roughly two months of operation.

“God has really provided for us through the community,” he said. “People have donated nearly $20,000 worth of supplies, time and money to get us started and we already have people lined up to clean all the junk out of some of the rooms at the building.

“It is a monstrous project and we are trying to get at it bit by bit and do the little things to get this project rolling.”

Mayor James Young said that the city is pleased to see movement in the historic building.

“We are definitely pleased that effort is being made to put that building to good use. Any movement in that area will be a big improvement,” Young said. “We are happy to know the thought is taking place and would love to get more involved as the project moves forward.”

The last major project done on the building was removing the tin dome from the roof of the historic building in the spring of 2010.

For more information, visit the Mississippi Combine office next to the Benwalt on Byrd Avenue. Vowell said they hope to have a Facebook page live by the end of the week.