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Downtown Little Rock Attracts More Hoteliers

5 min read

Downtown Little Rock has drawn the attention of three hotel developers who have invested more than $7.3 million to secure locations. The trio is poised to join an ascending hotel market powered by conventions, commerce and tourism.

A 140-room Hilton Garden Inn project, championed by Little Rock’s Pinnacle Hotel Group, is positioned to be the first to come on line: spring 2017.

“We’re hoping to have a show on the ground soon,” said Chet Patel, president of Pinnacle Hotel Group.

The status of the other two projects, a 140-room Aloft and 100-room Vib (pronounced Vibe), is less clear.

Clark Contractors LLC of Little Rock is prepared to start building the $12.5 million Hilton Garden Inn at 322 Rock St. Demolition of the vacant Rock Street Shops at 310-324 Rock St. will kick off site work.

William Clark, CEO of Clark Contractors, said the Hilton Garden is among 11 hotel projects his company is working on. Seven are in Texas.

“There’s a national boom going on with hotel construction,” Clark said. “Most of what we’ve been doing is associated with business travel. There’s a rush to build hotel rooms to capture the business segment.”

The Hilton Garden Inn will employ 50 and house nearly 4,000 SF of meeting space and a full-service restaurant and bar on the ground floor named The Garden and a top-floor venue called Posh.

The seven-story project represents the newest hotel in downtown Little Rock since the 116-room Homewood Suites by Hilton at 400 River Market Ave. opened on June 2.

The Homewood project completed a quartet of downtown Little Rock developments by McKibbon Hotel Group Inc. of Gainesville, Ga.

That roster includes the 120-room Marriott Courtyard, opened in 2004 at 521 President Clinton Ave.; the 119-room Hampton Inn & Suites, opened in 2008 at 320 River Market Ave.; and the 107-room Residence Inn, opened in 2013 at 219 River Market Ave.

The McKibbon hotels account for half of a group of hotels labeled the core downtown Little Rock market.

Occupancy among the eight hotels, which includes the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock, climbed to 71.3 percent last year. Occupancy for the group stood at 68.8 percent in 2014.

Rounding out the eight are properties along a three-block stretch of downtown Little Rock: the DoubleTree Little Rock at 424 W. Markham St., Little Rock Marriott at 3 Statehouse Plaza and Capital Hotel at 111 W. Markham St.

The daily room rate among the group of eight averaged $126 last year compared with $123.75 in 2014. The eight hotels are home to 1,482 rooms.

Last year marked the biggest booking season for the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau since 2006.

Helping fill Little Rock hotels were events coordinated with the bureau: 137,549 room nights associated with 499,027 attendees during 2015.

“We’re achieving what we wanted to, especially on the convention and meetings front,” said Alan Sims, vice president of sales and services at the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

LRC&V hotel bookings in 2006 totaled 142,639 room nights.

Delays & Challenges

The Pinnacle Hotel Group hoped to have the Hilton Garden Inn open by the end of this month. Instead, the group expects to begin construction by April, something originally envisioned for December 2014.

The original plan was to build the hotel on an adjoining parking lot, purchased for $1.1 million in January 2014. But the site was flipped to the neighboring retail property acquired for $950,000 a month earlier.

The Hilton Garden Inn project is the most ambitious among PHG’s 10 developments to date.

“There’s been challenge after challenge after challenge,” Patel said of the delayed timetable. “We’re finally to the point where we should be breaking ground soon.”

Solidifying the composition of the investor group and working through the intricacies of a syndicated construction loan package were among the challenges.

“The market is shaping up for us,” Patel said. “It’s an exciting time. The last big announcement is the technology park. We are thrilled with that.”

Three blocks to the west, work on the first phase of the $100 million Little Rock Technology Park is set to begin in April. Plans call for a five-phase development to encompass more than 600,000 SF that will become a magnet for business travelers.

Like the Hilton Garden Inn, the development timetable of the Aloft Hotel at 500 Main St. didn’t go according to plan.

Cast as an $18 million project by Jacob Chi, the redevelopment of the 12-story Boyle Building has gone dormant for 14 months and counting. The Chi Hotel Group paid $4.6 million for the property in March 2014.

Renovation work was supposed to start in September 2014 and be complete during the first quarter of 2016.

The continuing delay is linked partially with the financial travails of a neighboring developer, Scott Reed. His inability to pay the general contractor on the Main Street Lofts project led to the filing of a lien that tied up several properties, including the M.M. Cohn Building at 510 Main St.

Renovation work on the M.M. Cohn Building remains at a standstill in the financial tiff between Reed and Little Rock’s AMR Contractors. Chi wants to buy the 62,688-SF building as part of the Aloft redevelopment, but a sale can’t occur until the dispute between Reed and AMR is resolved.

The Aloft plans call for a 3,500-SF upscale restaurant, 4,000 SF of meeting space, a rooftop pool and lounge plus a ground-floor coffee shop.

According to a source familiar with the project, the building has been gutted, and only the load-bearing columns remain.

Construction work to convert the historic office building into a hotel would take about 15 months in its current state, he said. That’s if design documents are complete and in hand.

Chi couldn’t be reached for an update on the Aloft project.

Arkansas hotelier Feroz Patel couldn’t be reached to talk about his plans for a Vib hotel at 219 E. Sixth St. Patel acquired the site along with adjoining land for $699,000 in July.

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