Work to return the historic Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa in Hot Springs to its former glory has progressed in ways that even casual passersby can’t help but notice. Crews are nearing their first full calendar year of bringing new life to the exterior of the nearly century-old building.
More work on the Arlington will roll into 2024, part of a $30 million facelift. Taking on a long list of overdue chores for the 11-story structure with 20 separate roof lines presented a new challenge for the Texas ownership group.
“We’ve renovated many a property, but there’s a big difference between a renovation and restoration,” said Scott Larsen, president of operations at Sky Capital Group Ltd. of San Antonio.
The arduous task became even more time consuming as the limited partnership waded into ownership of the biggest hotel in Arkansas.
After buying the mammoth fixer-upper for $7 million six years ago, Sky Capital Group stabilized structural safety issues inherited from the previous owners, the Monty Scott family.
With the aid of Cromwell Architects Engineers of Little Rock, Sky Capital formed a battle plan to wipe away years of neglect and bring the Arlington into the 21st century with updated grandeur.
But the pandemic upended the timetable, and the extensive restoration plan didn’t get rolling until 2022.
The restoration left sections of brightened exterior in its wake, a change that left a false impression of what was actually happening.
“There was a miscommunication that we were just painting the building,” Larsen said during a walking tour of the property.
Workers replaced and repaired damaged masonry and cleaned surfaces. Part of the process requires the painstaking removal of decorative tile from the hotel facade to get to the brick for full restoration.
Workers also stripped away old stucco to expose the brick to identify and fix problem areas. Cleaned and sealed, the brickwork was covered with eggshell-tinted stucco in a process requiring seven applications and curing for each layer.
“The building should’ve never been painted [the way it was],” Larsen said. “The wrong materials were used, and that led to deterioration and moisture problems.”
Sky Capital Group is renewing efforts to land state and federal tax credits to help fund the Arlington restoration after COVID-19 and a change in governor interrupted the process.
“We have our applications in on that, but to date we haven’t received anything yet,” Larsen said.
These days, the iconic property is serving as collateral for a five-year construction loan of $14.7 million from Arkansas Federal Credit Union in Little Rock and a 28-year loan of $2 million from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The property was secured by $5.6 million mortgages held by the sellers in 2017 and replaced two years later by U.S. Bank of Cincinnati.
The U.S. Bank mortgage was released after Sky Capital Group struck its funding agreement with the state’s largest credit union.
Finished & Unfinished
Among last year’s completed list are the twin towers topping the hotel’s Mediterranean design and the new custom-cut steps for the stately ascent to the main entrance from the corner of Central Avenue and Fountain Street.
The movement of exterior restoration work and scaffolding has nearly made a circuit around the hotel.
Crews are working counter-clockwise to prep rooms for window work, remove the old windows, install the new ones and finish and paint.
Larsen reckons the race to replace all 968 windows with double-paned lookalikes is 75% finished.
“We’ve been averaging about 50 new windows every two weeks,” he said. “We hope to be done with windows by February.”
Less noticeable are the new chiller and cooling tower added to the hotel roof in March 2022.
The removal of the old equipment and installation of the new was a nearly two-week process that required a crane with a 250-foot span that could handle an 8-ton load.
“That’s a million-dollar project that people don’t see,” Larsen said.
While the finish line is within sight for completing the work outside, significant work remains for the interior.
Redoing all the plumbing and installing new bathroom fixtures for a guest room count of more than 400 are among the tasks. A seamstress is on site cranking out new curtains for every room.
A notable item no longer on the to-do list inside is the ceiling restoration for the grand Venetian Dining Room, a five-month project.
Even as more work shifts indoors, the phased battle plan remains intact to stay open for business while pushing forward. “We’ve stayed operational through the whole thing,” Larsen said.
On his wish list is completing all restoration work on an amenity gracing the front of the hotel, an observation deck with views of Central Avenue, the line of magnolias along the south side of Fountain Street and the literal hot springs park adjoining Bathhouse Row beyond.
“I want the veranda ready to go by spring, so people can appreciate it again for what it’s been all these years,” Larsen said.