Cannabis Takes Mind Off Hotels

Cannabis Takes Mind Off Hotels
Storm Nolan, shown here in the space where he hopes to cultivate medical marijuana, says his family's hotel business is off by double digits due to COVID-19. (Corey S. Krasko)

You may have read that Storm Nolan of Fort Smith has a new medical marijuana cultivation facility in motion for Sebastian County, but his more immediate worry has been COVID-19’s toll on the hospitality industry.

Nolan is a partner in family-owned CSK Hotels of Fort Smith and the sole owner of River Valley Relief Cultivation LLC, which is working to renovate a warehouse site near Fort Smith Regional Airport to join the five currently operating cannabis-growing facilities in Arkansas.

Nolan told Whispers last month that revenue was off 30%-40% at his company’s five Fort Smith and Little Rock hotels at that point, but that business had picked up over the summer.

CSK owns the Holiday Inn Presidential and the Comfort Inn & Suites Presidential in Little Rock, as well as the Hampton Inn by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton in Fort Smith.

“It’s the business travelers that are so hesitant to come back, and that’s our season right now, the time when business travel picks back up annually,” he said in a phone interview.

Last week, he reported a 26% decline in the middle-to-upper-scale Fort Smith hotel market compared with last year, a 38% decline in the same market in west Little Rock, and a whopping 66% swoon in Bentonville, according to numbers from the hotel industry tracker STR. Downtown Little Rock is off 50%.

“We’re really hoping that a vaccine eventually emboldens people, maybe by next spring when a good portion of the population has had a chance to get it,” Nolan said. “Business travelers have to feel safe about moving around again.”

The cultivation center, in a CSK-owned warehouse not far from the company’s two hotels at the entrance of the airport, is progressing, Nolan reports. “It’s moving forward,” he said, adding that River Valley Relief hopes to have its building permit soon “so that we can get construction underway.”