Texarkana Convention Center Showdown Ends in Dueling Developments

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Oct. 29, 2012 12:00 am  

Harold Boldt, left, and Kenny Haskin said the planned water park on the Arkansas side will be a “game changer.” (Photo by Luke Jones)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times - but mostly the latter. In the mid-2000s, Texarkana's economy was slumping, and city leaders were searching for ways to prod it back to life. What ensued was a development race yielding two convention centers, multiple hotels and a full-sized water park.

"Basically, we were bleeding, to say the least," said Kenny Haskin, director of economic development for the city of Texarkana on the Arkansas side of the state line. "We were bleeding from all sides. Being caught in the middle of a four-state region, it was very difficult for us to compete in the state."

"We were trying to find a way to jumpstart Texarkana, Arkansas," said City Manager Harold Boldt.

The answer, it seemed, lay in unmet demand for a large meeting space in the region.

"We fielded calls for 10 years from groups and individuals wanting to have large groups and meetings in the Texarkana area," said Jack Dougherty, principal of Dougherty Property Group LLC, which owns several hotels in the Texarkana area. "We did not have the facilities for 400, 500, 800 people in close proximity of hotels to make those large events doable for those groups. We were losing visitors."

Texarkana, Ark., began plans to build a combination hotel and convention center. Boldt said Partners in Development, a consulting group led by two former hotel executives, performed a study to find the best spot for the project. It eventually indicated an area north of Interstate 30.

By 2006, the city government of Texarkana, Ark., had managed to scrape together a few million dollars to acquire almost a dozen acres of the land and created a tax increment financed district. Best Western and Holiday Inn Express hotels went up near the area planned for the convention center.

The Arkansans began discussion with Dougherty, who also owned the Best Western, on building the convention center. Boldt said the city was prepared to offer tax incentives to Dougherty for the construction.

"We did a big pep rally," Boldt said. "After we got the study done, we provided the incentive to [Dougherty's group]. Then they walked away."

Dougherty declined to say specifically what caused him to reject the Arkansas option.

"Unfortunately it did not work with our property and our business model for that location," Dougherty said. "It just didn't work from a business standpoint for us."

It turned out that a convention center and an attached Hilton Garden Inn, owned by Dougherty, was already in development on the Texas side.



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