In Jonesboro, 2 Convention Center Projects Take Shape


A rendering of the Embassy Suites Hotel and Houlihan's restaurant, which will be adjacent to Arkansas State University's Red Wolf Convention Center.
A rendering of the Embassy Suites Hotel and Houlihan's restaurant, which will be adjacent to Arkansas State University's Red Wolf Convention Center. (Arkansas State University)
The Hyatt Place Hotel & Convention Center, a project by CFK Hospitality of Effingham, Illinois.
The Hyatt Place Hotel & Convention Center, a project by CFK Hospitality of Effingham, Illinois.
A site plan for the Embassy Suites Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center on the ASU campus.
A site plan for the Embassy Suites Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center on the ASU campus.

Two different convention center construction projects continue to move forward in Jonesboro.

The Jonesboro Hyatt Place Hotel and Convention Center broke ground at its site on Browns Lane Access Road, in the city's hotel district near Interstate 555, in August; its projected completion date is spring 2018. 

The Embassy Suites Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center on the Arkansas State University campus is approaching its ground-breaking date and also targets next spring for completion.

"I don't want to box myself in with a 'This is our opening day,' " said Chris Keller of CFK Hospitality of Effingham, Illinois, the company behind the Hyatt project. "We're looking at potentially April next year."

In July, Hilton Worldwide approved plans to build the Embassy Suites Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center on the ASU campus. The location is on Red Wolf Boulevard near the university's football, baseball and basketball venues.

Groundbreaking for the ASU project will take place within 60 days, according to Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Hospitality Management of Springfield, Missouri. He expects to be complete in 14-15 months. 

O'Reilly said the $50 million facility will have a 203-room hotel and 30,000 SF of meeting space.

"We're 95 percent done with drawings at this point," O'Reilly said. "It's a real deal and it's happening and we're excited about it."

Phase I of the Hyatt project will have 147 guest rooms and more than 50,000-SF of meeting space at a cost of around $35 million, Keller said. He said Phase II, which includes a second hotel, would run the cost to around $56 million.

"I'm very confident in the project itself and I think it will speak for itself and draw a customer base," Keller said.

Jonesboro spent years seeking a convention center, and now it's about to have two. 

After a series of false starts and financing issues, including a failed city sales tax proposal in 2006, ASU began work on an on-campus project. The Keller and O'Reilly groups emerged as finalists for the ASU project in late 2013, with Keller initially winning the job.

But deadlines for a final proposal and financing approval passed and the university moved forward with the O'Reilly group. The Keller group continued to pursue other projects in Jonesboro, eventually landing at the site near I-555.

The Hyatt project is expected to benefit from its location, which includes proximity to the interstate and other hotels on 42 acres of undeveloped land being sold as Centre Park, with lots designated for office, medical and retail space.

Keller said the Hyatt Place Hotel and Convention Center will begin bookings in the fall and, while business travelers and weddings seem to be a good fit, he stressed the facility is open to any and all events.

"It's wide open across the board," he said.

The Embassy Suites Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center will likely attempt to draw academic-oriented conferences and functions and athletic events like basketball tournaments. But O'Reilly said the facility will not limit itself.

"I know our target is everything," he said. "Every piece of business we can book."  

The university's fledgling hospitality degree program will also find space in the center.

"We will partner with O'Reilly Hospitality to implement a new academic program in hospitality management," ASU Vice President of Strategic Communications Jeff Hankins said in an email. "And this will enable us to recruit students interested in this growing professional field. The development will also provide new jobs for our students and the Jonesboro region."

"We don't have a specific curriculum established at this point," O'Reilly said. "But we've had pretty in-depth conversations about internships, rotating culinary programs and rotating management programs."

It remains to be seen if the city, with a projected 2017 population of 75,016, and surrounding area can support two convention center projects. Feasibility studies have shown that one center could generate as much as $50 million in the local economy in one year.


More On This Story