Hotel Construction Proceeds in Arkansas

Arkansas has at least three major hotel construction projects in progress, and others are in various stages of planning.

(Click here to read a related story on some hotel projects that are still in the planning phases.)

Construction of the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville began in December.

Craig Greenberg, president of 21c Museum Hotels, said the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art made Bentonville particularly attractive for the company’s third boutique hotel and museum. 21c’s original hotel is in Louisville, Ky. A second is under construction in Cincinnati.

The 21c in Bentonville will clock in at about $30 million.

“In addition to the strong business climate, we were drawn to Bentonville by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which opened in November 2011. We believe that it will be known as the most important museum of American art in the world and that it will change the tourism business in Arkansas forever,” Greenberg told Arkansas Business last week in an email.

“Our founder and CEO, Steve Wilson, often compares it to what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao, Spain, which has been an incredible economic and cultural engine for the city.”

The hotel, which will also house a contemporary art museum open to the public, is scheduled to debut in Bentonville during the first quarter of 2013.

The four-story hotel will have 104 guest rooms; 12,000 SF of exhibition, meeting and event space; and a fitness center, business center and 125-seat restaurant.

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock is the project’s executive architect, and Flintco of Tulsa is the general contractor.

Deborah Berke & Partners Architects LLP of New York City served as the design architect.

Another project also started in December, the more than $16 million renovation of the former Cosmopolitan Hotel in Fayetteville.

VCC of Little Rock and Dawn Properties Inc. of Hattiesburg, Miss., partnered to buy the property for $3.8 million and redo the Cosmopolitan last year.

The companies renamed the 16-story hotel The Chancellor to rebrand it, as well as to relate the hotel to its proximity to the University of Arkansas. The Chancellor is scheduled to open Sept. 13.

Sam Alley, chairman and CEO of VCC, said just the shell of the original hotel remains.

When VCC and Dawn Properties bought the hotel in November, only 90 rooms in the 235-room hotel were operational due to unfinished renovations, Alley said.

The Chancellor will offer 207 guest rooms, with 20 of them luxury suites.

“We think it’s a good investment just because of the growth that’s going on at the university and northwest Arkansas,” he said.

Scott Bowman, owner of Theo’s Bar & Dining Room in Fayetteville, will operate The Union, The Chancellor’s coming restaurant and bar.

Flick-Mars of Dallas is the project architect, and Dawn and VCC are doing their own general contracting work.

In addition to the earlier hotel projects, March saw the first days of work on a new Residence Inn by Marriott at 219 River Market Ave. in downtown Little Rock.

McKibbon Hotel Group Inc. of Gainesville, Ga., is developing the six-story, 80,584-SF hotel. The Residence Inn will have 104 guest rooms.

Lindsay Pope Brayfield Clifford & Associates in Lawrenceville, Ga., is the architect and engineer for the Residence Inn, and Clark Contractors of Little Rock is the general contractor.

McKibbon also owns the Courtyard by Marriott at 521 President Clinton Ave. and the Hampton Inn & Suites at 320 S. Commerce St.

Montine McNulty, executive director of the Arkansas Hospitality Association, said Arkansas currently has 735 hotel and lodging properties with a total of 49,148 rooms.

The new projects are likely “an indication that financing is loosening up a little bit,” McNulty said.

New hotels, or fresh makeovers, tend to be popular and make hotel markets more competitive, even if they are crowded already, she said.

“Travel and tourism continues to create jobs and be an engine all over the United States,” McNulty said. “I think it’s just going to improve in the future.”