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AC Hotel Premieres in Historic Little Rock ProjectLock Icon

4 min read

The newest multimillion-dollar addition to the downtown Little Rock scene is only a few days away from a soft opening at 201 W. Capitol Ave. The 114-room AC Hotel is poised to begin serving drop-in visitors and hosting overnight guests on Feb. 18.

“We’re eager to see how the market responds to it,” said Derek Alley, an investor in the Hall-Davidson redevelopment and managing director of Little Rock’s VCC general contracting firm.

A grand opening party for Marriott Hotel’s first AC-flagged offering in Arkansas is set for March 19, 34 months after the property was acquired.

The $25 million project marks a westward step of redevelopment from the Main Street corridor that downtown boosters hope will extend to other properties along Capitol Avenue.

“We’re excited to have the AC Hotel bring new life and energy to a section of downtown that hasn’t seen that infusion of capital in quite some time,” said Gabe Holmstrom, executive director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. “There is going to be an impact felt there.”

The opening of the AC Hotel represents the biggest redevelopment in the heart of downtown Little Rock since the $22 million Mann on Main project was completed in 2013.

Mann on Main repurposed the former Blass Department Store and annex with upper-story offices and apartments plus ground-floor eateries.

Like Mann on Main two blocks away, the AC Hotel is bringing new life to adjoining properties with redevelopment of the five-story Hall and three-story Davidson buildings.

The hotel is filling the Hall Building and the upper floors of the Davidson Building. The only piece of the two-building puzzle that awaits a reimagined updating and buildout is 6,000 SF on the ground floor of the Davidson Building.

“We hope to have a restaurant if we can find the right fit,” said Joshua Castle, general manager of the AC Hotel.

The configuration lends itself to the possibility of two businesses setting up shop. For now, the unfinished space serves as a staging area for goods to complete the final furnishing of the hotel.

Much of the inventory that awaits unpacking is devoted to eight styles of glassware for drinks and serviceware for breakfast and lounge dining. The now-vacant space is envisioned to provide full-service dining to complement the AC lounge.

“We’re in active discussion with local and national tenants who are very interested,” Alley said. “We’re open to all creative ideas and are talking with restaurants and other entertainment options. We’re being very deliberate about who we put in there. We want it to resonate with the local market and the people traveling in.”

European in its rooting and Spanish in its founding, the AC Hotel chain was established in Madrid in 1999 and monogrammed with the initials of its creator, Antonio Catalan. The limited service, urban luxury concept was imported to the United States with a 2014 New Orleans debut. At last count, Little Rock will be AC Hotel No. 72 in the nation.

The AC layout and style, with its tidy modern look and USB ports aplenty, are mindful of the millennial market of business and leisure travelers.

That extends from the bar lounge, envisioned as a social draw to end the day or start the weekend, to guest rooms where the standard hotel fare of printed collateral is noticeably absent.

“The design idea is to eliminate the clutter we have to deal with in life,” Castle said.

A focal point of the hotel is the AC lounge, where signature cocktails, imported coffee and espresso are served as well as breakfast with a European flair and tappa-style bar food.

The starting price points for overnight stays are $150 during the week and $109 on weekends. Those rates are expected to stabilize closer to $200 and $119 as the property matures.

‘Authentic and New’

Unpeeling layers of earlier remodels in the Davidson Building revealed white marble adorning the walls and one-inch hexagon floor tile and crown molding that required restoration and repair work.

“It was as much artistry as it was construction,” Alley said. “We wanted to make it feel authentic and new. That’s the whole point of a historic redevelopment.”

The second and third floors of the onetime office building and former textile factory are now joined to transition from the 1923 Hall Building to the 1947 Davidson Building.

The original front doorway of the nearly century-old Hall Building was kept intact and restored out of aesthetic consideration rather than functional practicality.

During a tour of the property, workers were applying dark wood stain to the interior door frame to finish sprucing up the former entrance hallway. However, the double doors will be fixed in place as historic eye candy and no longer accommodate comings and goings.

“The owners have gone to great lengths to retain the historic nature of the buildings,” Castle said.

A new public entry on Capitol Avenue was constructed to lead patrons from the valet-parking curb cut to the lobby. Off to the right a few steps from the front desk, the Hall Building’s elevator lobby remains in service with a blend of old and new.

The wall-mounted building directory and mail chute remain in place. One of the two original elevators has returned to duty while its dormant mate is relegated to static display, replaced with a new bigger elevator to comply with modern safety requirements.

Prime consideration: A standard gurney won’t fit in the older elevator car to attend an emergency call.

Tracking down matching marble and tile, salvaging what could be salvaged to preserve the past and creating templates to rebuild damaged molding were all part of the challenge.

“A lot of the reason we took on the chore is that it is our hometown, and we’re big believers that local investment has to lead the charge in redeveloping downtown,” Alley said.

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