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Historic Makeover En Route to Iconic Arlington Hotel

5 min read

Al Rajabi promised to breathe new life into the tired Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa when his partnership bought the iconic Arkansas property a year ago.

During the past 12 months, the San Antonio developer has busied himself putting together a $50 million battle plan to bring the historic Hot Springs hotel into the 21st century with much-needed updating and long overdue renovation.

More details of Rajabi’s recipe to revamp the 93-year-old Spa City landmark will be unveiled soon, according to his man on the ground, Alan Sims.

“Within the next 60 days, we’re going to have a major announcement that will talk to the future,” said Sims, general manager of the Arlington. “He’s put together a really great team and is working to finalize financing. It’s really going to be big when you’re talking about $55 million to $60 million.”

Flagging the independent hotel under a national affiliation, reconfiguring the room count with more suites and establishing a destination bar in its grand lobby are a sampling of the changes on the way.

“We are beginning to gradually see the impact of new investment into this community,” Rajabi, CEO of Sky Capital Group LP, said in an emailed statement. “We are preparing to embark on a major project to rescue and restore the grandeur of this beautiful, historic icon of Arkansas and the South.

“We are confident that additional opportunity, awareness and new visitors will follow. There is much to be optimistic about for the future of The Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa and Hot Springs.”

Since the public announcement of his purchase of the Arlington on July 10, 2017, Rajabi has served up an appetizer of things to come at the 404,679-SF hospitality venue.

“He’s already invested $1 million in renovation and changes,” said Sims.

The line items include removing walls to open up the lobby and lines of sight to the Venetian Dining Room, along with tile work, installing new fixtures in the lobby and swimming pool restrooms and applying paint and plaster to freshen ceilings and walls.

“We did a significant amount of plastering,” Sims said. “For years, there was a Band-Aid approach to fixing things. Now, we get the leaks fixed first and then repair the plaster or repaint.

“Not everybody understands it, but we’re in this weird place of doing repairs on areas of the hotel that are about to be visited by a major renovation.

“Many of the improvements are only temporary and will be replaced in the coming months. We’re trying to be smart and keep guest considerations first and foremost.”

The heightened attention and financial energy brought by Rajabi is a welcome change after years of neglect under the ownership of the Monty Scott family.

When Rajabi bought the Arlington and its surrounding property for $7 million in 2017, he also acquired the politically charged atmosphere surrounding it.

Years of civic frustration with the checkered stewardship of the previous owners transferred to Rajabi along with title to the hotel.

That contributed to a fractious start with city officials, a stormy situation that has calmed as Rajabi backed his professed love for the mammoth fixer-upper project with action with much bigger plans.

“My understanding is they’re having drawings done,” said Mike Scott, Hot Springs chief building official and community development administrator. “They have done some repairs. Most of it doesn’t require a building permit because it’s considered cosmetic work.

“They’re trying to play catch-up, and they’ve got a lot of catching up to do. But it’s looking a lot better.”

Among the easier fixes was replacing more than 360 tubed televisions in guest rooms with flat-screen TVs. Another change from old-school gear ushered in single-cup coffee machines.

Behind-the-scenes improvements included bringing in all-new kitchen equipment and transforming dingy employee facilities with much-needed upgrades.

“We put a lot of value on our employees, and it’s important to validate their work,” Sims said.

On paper, the Arlington held the title as the largest hotel in Arkansas with a room count as high as 485. However, the operational tally dropped considerably when safety and habitability entered the equation.

More than a third of the Arlington’s rooms were not in service when Rajabi came onto the scene last year.

“When we took over the hotel, 180 rooms were out of order,” Sims said. “The previous owners took them out because they didn’t want to invest the money to fix them. I think we’re down to 26 or 27 [unusable rooms], something like that. We continue to take the condition of our rooms seriously.”

The hotel’s 150 “historic” rooms are marked for transformation into 75 suite-type rooms with full bathrooms.

The “historic” tag refers to smaller rooms marketed to ailing visitors who received prescriptions to bathe in the city’s healing waters as part of a medical treatment back in the day. The room layout featured shower, sink and toilet — no bathtub.

Once upon a time, a common Hot Springs traffic pattern saw patients strolling across Central Avenue from doctors’ offices in the nearby Medical Arts Building to the Arlington, where they had booked a stay while undergoing their bathhouse regimen.

Another change in the room count will follow a relocation of administrative offices from the second floor of the hotel into the Wade Building. The adjoining building on the north side of the hotel was part of Rajabi’s Arlington purchase.

The current office space will revert to its original layout as a wing of guest rooms.

Sims estimates the final room count will end up around 425, enough to maintain the Arlington’s status as the state’s largest hotel.

“We are going to work to configure and keep that title,” he said.

The epic renovation coming to the Arlington will be staged so that only a portion of the hotel will be closed as the work progresses through the hotel.

“It’s unfortunate, but we still hear stories that the Arlington is closed down for renovation,” Sims said. “But we’re not closing the hotel. The plans for renovation do not include closing the hotel down. The hotel is structured perfectly to close one wing at a time.”

The hotel’s lobby bar already received a makeover under Rajabi’s ownership, but it too is among the cosmetic changes destined for a full-blown reimagination in the near future.

“It was old, but it wasn’t historic old,” Sims said. “That bar is very temporary. We’re going to create a destination bar with room for 40 or 50 people seated at the bar.”

Aligning the Arlington with a national brand affiliation will better position the marketing draw of the hotel. It’s another ingredient envisioned to blend the best of the old with the new.

“We’re going to bring her back to life and make the state proud,” Sims said.

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