In the shadow of the $70 million Robinson Center renovation, the DoubleTree Little Rock is undergoing its own transformation.
The hotel, at 424 W. Markham St., began millions of dollars in renovations in May. It will modernize all the guest rooms and public spaces, including the lobby and restaurant. General Manager Tina Fleming said most of the work will be complete in time to coincide with Robinson Center's grand re-opening next month.
The hotel declined to release the cost of the project. FAC-W Markham LLC, a partnership of affiliates of Fifth Avenue Capital of New York and Waterford Hotel Group of Waterford, Connecticut, purchased the hotel in January 2015.
"We want to keep current for our guests and make sure we have the most cutting-edge amenities, look and feel," Fleming said. "It was an opportune time to do the renovation and tie in with the Robinson space — to be able to present both of our facilities at the same time and just wow all of our guests."
The 288-room hotel's changes are mostly cosmetic: new carpet, sheers, seating, wall vinyl and furniture. All double-full rooms are being converted into double-queen rooms, and all single-queen rooms are being converted into king rooms. The hotel also added a connection to the adjacent Robinson Center so guests can walk from one building to the other without stepping outside.
But the biggest transformation will be the lobby and restaurant. The lobby will get new finishes and fixtures, as well as a more open front desk and additional lobby seating to make the space "more social," Fleming said.
The hotel is rebranding the restaurant with a new menu and floor plan. Its new name, "Bridges," is a nod to the bridges across the Arkansas River in Little Rock, specifically the nearby Broadway Bridge, which is being rebuilt in a massive undertaking of its own.
"We want to make sure we have a great amenity for our in-house guests, but we're also inviting to people in the downtown area who are visiting, staying at other locations, etcetera, to come eat there," Fleming said.
Bridges' menu will include casual, Southern cuisine with a "unique flair," Fleming said.
"It's going to be a little more upscale than just a typical fried food option; we'll have a little bit of everything and some healthy food, too," she said.
The restaurant bar will triple in size to seat 18. Wendy Russell, director of sales and marketing, says she hopes it will attract locals.
The renovation has also updated the hotel's public spaces and hallways. The hotel's exterior will be power-washed and get a fresh coat of touch-up paint when the interior renovations are complete. Fleming said conference rooms likely will be updated in a future renovation.
The DoubleTree has timed the debut of its new restaurant and renovations to coincide with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra's Opus Ball on Nov. 12. The event will be the Robinson Center's first since closing in 2014 for renovations.
Fleming and Russell said the hotel construction — and surrounding construction on the Broadway Bridges and Robinson Center — hasn't had a significant effect on business.
"What's nice about it is that we do a floor at a time, so really, to our guests, they don't even know that it's happening; it doesn't impact their stay at all," Russell said. "When a floor is done, we open it up and then we take down another one."
The last round of upgrades came to the DoubleTree in 2008. The hotel was built in the 1970s and became the DoubleTree in 1995, Fleming said.
"Renovations are a regular process," Russell said. "There are different projects you have to undertake at different year benchmarks."
With this renovation, the goal is to attract bigger conventions and handle more groups in conjunction with the Statehouse Convention Center and the Robinson Center, she said.
"We're hoping to upgrade our status for sure," Russell said.