Arkansas' Iconic Meeting Venues Getting Facelift

Everything Old Is New Again. At least that’s the case with some of Arkansas’ most established and well-known venues.

Meeting planners, when doing what they do best, now have — or will soon have — some revamped spaces to consider in Little Rock, Hot Springs and Mena.

Hot Springs’ storied Arlington Hotel, the current version of which was completed in 1924, finished renovations to its Crystal Ballroom more than a year ago and expected to have upgrades to its convention center completed by fall.

Work at 38-year-old Queen Wilhelmina Lodge, atop Rich Mountain near Mena, is ongoing and visitors will soon be able to savor extensive remodels and upgrades, inside and out.

And in Little Rock, the Robinson Center Auditorium is moving ahead with extensive plans to improve and increase the size of the facility that was dedicated in 1940.

Arlington general manager Bob Martorana said the upgrades to the hotel and convention center were necessary not only for the sake of improvement but to help the Arlington continue to compete for business with other venues in Arkansas.

“With additional spaces that are built around the state we felt like we really needed to stay current with the state of the art as much as we could,” he said.

The 5,600-SF Crystal Ballroom now has new, maple hardwood floors, carpet, ornate drapes, large mirrors and paint. The crystal chandeliers — which give the room its name —were cleaned, polished and refinished with restored brass and updated lights. The art emblems and sconces have new gold paint.

The ballroom seats 300 for dinner, a dance or reception. Theatre seating is 400.

Not to be outdone, the Arlington’s convention center has been putting the finishing touches on its own remodel.

Martora said the goal was to maintain the facility’s architectural legacy while modernizing at the same time.

With that in mind, renovation of the 8,240-SF convention center includes new and additional ceiling light fixtures with LED dimmable capabilities. These “green” projects will more than double the number of fixtures prior to the remodeling but actually lower electricity usage.

The ceiling has been painted and lighter wallpaper added along with modern wall dividers that will improve the soundproofing of the center. The sound system has also been upgraded.

The capacity will remain 1,000 for theater-style seating and 650 for dining.

“We’ve got about 8,250 square feet of conference center space,” Martorana said. “We have double the lighting, not just replacing the lighting but we doubled the amount of lighting in the facility right now so it will make for a much more improved conference meeting facility as far as workability and people being able to conduct a good, successful conference.”

Martorana said the Arlington was host to the Arkansas Society of Executives in August and the group got a sneak peak at the convention center upgrades underway. It was a good, positive gauge of how other groups will react to the new look, Martorana said, and whets the appetite for other events to come in Hot Springs.

They could see that improvements were coming,” Martorana said in September. “And for sure and we’re looking forward to having the documentary film festival next month, in fact, in some of the new space.”

Completion of the Hot Springs Convention Center remodel was expected in October, if not sooner.

Queen Wilhelmina is set to reopen early next year upon completion of a $6.7 million renovation. The popular destination along the Talimena Scenic Drive is undergoing its first major remodel since it opened in 1975.

New shingles and stonework, energy efficient features, a new hearth room and fireplace, remodeled lobby, gift shop, reception/registration area, two new rooms (increasing the room numbers to 40) are all part of the project that will increase the lodge’s size from 26,335-SF to 36,538-SF.

Enlarged restrooms and upstairs meeting spaces are also planned and the north entrance will be remodeled. The lodge will also feature a wraparound porch on the south side and a new porch on the west end.

The $6.7 million project should be complete early in 2014.

Robinson Center Auditorium will also increase in size when its remodel is complete in 2016. Details of the $68.6 million project were revealed in late September and include restoration and renovation of the exterior, re-working entrances, improving acoustics, upgrading the loading area and building an entirely new conference center and grand hall on the north side.

The auditorium will increase in size from 133,500 SF to 138,000 once the work, which also includes building a multi-level lobby and lowering the performance hall, is completed.

Also, the conference center, in the auditorium basement, will be moved to a new wing overlooking the Arkansas River and a new grand ballroom in the wing will accommodate 400-500.

The project is timed to overlap with the construction of the new Broadway Bridge that will connect to North Little Rock.

“I’ve always seen the Robinson Auditorium as an anchor to the west because of the Broadway Bridge and I-30,” said architect Reese Rowland of Polk Stanley Wilcox, one of the designers, in a recent Arkansas Business article. “As beautiful as a building it is, it was built to face the city. The Robinson actually turns its back to the greatest amenity we have, the Arkansas River.”