Penguins, Promise Coming to Bentonville with $28 Million, 21c Museum Hotel

by Rob Keys  on Tuesday, Jun. 8, 2010 4:04 pm  

Hoteliers Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson talk with Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin (far right). In a role reversal, Wilson presented McCaslin with a "key to the hotel."

Watching his small-town Kentucky hometown wither over the years, Steve Wilson longed to do something to turn the tide.

Those dreams never reached fruition, but Wilson announced on Tuesday a move aimed to help Bentonville "revitalize a downtown, reinvigorate a city."

"It will change the landscape of Bentonville forever," mayor Bob McCaslin said.

Wilson is the founder and chairman of 21c Museum Hotels, which plans to open a 130-room property on the northeast corner of Bentonville's town square. The hotel, which also will feature more than 12,000 SF of exhibition, meeting and event space - as well as a 9,000-SF bar and restaurant - will be within walking distance of both the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. headquarters.

"Crystal Bridges is going to be a major art attraction in the world ... and we're very attracted to the idea of tourism based on art," Wilson said, "so I look forward to being a complement to Crystal Bridges."

Other 21c projects have been announced for Cincinnati and Austin, Texas, with the lone open property located in Louisville. That hotel was voted No. 1 in the United States and No. 6 worldwide in the 2009 Condé Nast Traveler Readers Choice awards.

The Bentonville project is valued at $28 million and will be financed by Arvest Bank. Investors include a Walton family partnership and Bentonville Revitalization Inc. Construction is set to begin this fall, with a target open date of 2012.

Wilson said Deborah Berke of New York will serve as architect, as she did in Louisville. Berke will collaborate with Little Rock-based Polk Stanley Wilcox and Louisville-based co-developer Poe Companies.

Wilson also said a general contractor has not been selected. The hotel is expected to result in 160 full-time jobs once it opens.

Talks about the project began about two years ago, Wilson said, then added he doesn't want cookie-cutter properties. The Louisville hotel previously was a warehouse, while the Bentonville property will be built from the ground up.

"My hope is that they'll all be individualized even though they will all be 21cs," Wilson said. "I'm not into chains. ... We're about living art."

The hotel will be located on the current site of a drive-thru Arvest branch and its adjacent parking lot.



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