The Jonesboro Advertising & Promotions Commission voted 3-2 on Wednesday afternoon to financially support the Keller Family Hyatt group in its attempt to build a convention center and hotel in northeast Arkansas’ hub city.
The commission agreed to give the group $300,000 for advertising and promotion during the next three years, and the group will also receive a hotel tax abatement of up to $200,000 per year during the same time frame.
Another group, the O’Reilly Embassy Suites group in conjunction with Arkansas State University, had been vying for funds from the commission. It took commissioners more than an hour to render a decision in front of a standing room only crowd at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce office.
“The Keller project is approved,” Chairman Thom Beasley said.
Multiple ASU and O’Reilly group officials attended the meeting and did not comment as to whether their proposed convention center/hotel project on the ASU campus will move forward without A&P support.
However, after the meeting, ASU Chancellor Tim Hudson released a statement saying university officials "look forward to continuing our plans with O’Reilly."
The Keller group intends to build a 37,000-SF convention center and a 165-room Hyatt Place Hotel near the confluence of U.S. 63 and Caraway Road. It is slated to open in late 2017 or early 2018, according to information released by the company.
Commissioners chose the Keller project because it will be cheaper for the city in the long run.
Mayor Harold Perrin said in a statement, "I’m pleased that Jonesboro will be getting a convention center. This city government and others have been working on a convention center for at least seven years, and it appears that it will soon be a reality.
“I would like to congratulate Chuck Keller Sr. and his organization for putting together a successful proposal, and we look forward to working with him in the future to bring more people to Jonesboro for meetings, conventions and other activities."
O’Reilly officials asked the commission for $600,000 to promote and market their 40,000-SF convention center/hotel and wanted a tax abatement of up to $200,000 per year. Initially, the abatement would only last three years, but the group wanted to be able to negotiate the abatement renewal every three years.
These renewals could be approved for a total of 18 years, costing up to $3.6 million.
The O’Reilly group intended to build a 205-room Embassy Suites Hotel. ASU approved a tentative lease agreement with the group Friday.
Jonesboro has a 3-cent hotel room tax that funds the A&P. Besides the significant difference in the proposals' costs, commissioners worried that future commissions might not adhere to the O’Reilly agreement or that the funds to support it might not be available, Beasley said.
ASU intends to start a hospitality management major, and officials hoped the O’Reilly project on campus would help facilitate that goal, ASU vice-chancellor for affairs Lynita Cooksey said.
Keller has offered to build classrooms at their facility to accommodate the program, but Cooksey said its distance from the main campus and curriculum issues made that possibility not feasible. Attempts to reach Cooksey for comment late Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.
In his statement, Chancellor Hudson said: "We are very disappointed by the Jonesboro A&P Commission’s decision today. The public-private partnership between Arkansas State and O'Reilly Hospitality Management will bring an upper-upscale hotel and convention center to our community at an ideal location.
"The cooperative effort of the city’s second-largest employer and home to 13,000 students and an experienced developer of hospitality venues throughout the U.S. is significant for Jonesboro and the region. It will allow A-State to establish a new academic program and enhance student recruitment.
"We are grateful to the city's medical centers and businesses who have expressed support for our partnership. We look forward to continuing our plans with O’Reilly and will always focus on what is best for our students, who clearly understand the value of this project for our campus.”