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Red Wolf Convention Center Plans September Open in Jonesboro

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The $58 million Embassy Suites by Hilton Hotel and Red Wolf Convention Center at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro is set to open in late September.

That’s a little behind when it was first slated for completion — July or August — because of more than 100 days of rain-related construction delays.

The convention center will offer 40,000 SF of flexible meeting and event space for up to 1,500 people, on-site catering and audiovisual capabilities.

The attached Embassy Suites hotel will have 203 two-room suites on seven floors and feature a Houlihan’s restaurant and bar, a 24/7 fitness center, an indoor pool and an atrium.

The project aims to attract larger conventions, conferences and events than the area has seen, said General Manager Kraig Pomrenke. He works for O’Reilly Hospitality Management of Springfield, Missouri, which will manage the facility.

He said it will also give the university’s hospitality management students hands-on experience comparable to the clinicals required for medical degrees.

“It’s a huge project. Everywhere I go in Jonesboro, people are very excited about it,” Pomrenke said.

Jerry Morgan, chairman of the Jonesboro Advertising & Promotions Commission, agreed. “We’re obviously very excited about getting closer to the opening because it’ll bring quite a few people into Jonesboro that haven’t been here before,” he said.

The commission collects a tax of 3% of hotel revenue but has agreed to give a rebate for this project, meaning the hotel and convention center will keep the 3% for up to 10 years. The rebate is capped too, at $2.5 million.

“Something like this has been in the works for 20 years,” Morgan said, adding that what would have been the A&P’s money will be used to lure bigger conventions, conferences and other events.

One advantage of the center, Pomrenke said, is its location opposite Centennial Bank Stadium, First National Bank Arena and Fowler Center. He sees those venues as an opportunity to market their combined 150,000 SF of space.

The Red Wolf Convention Center will also be able to serve groups that the arena and stadium can’t serve because they’re hemmed in by a sports schedule that isn’t set until three months ahead of time, Pomrenke said. Some groups may need to book a space more than three months out for their events, he said.

He also expects the convention center to help the hotel. Pomrenke said its guests will be members of associations holding meetings or events there, conference-goers and gala attendees. It could also see regular business guests, families in town for sports or other activities at the university and families visiting students living in dorms, he said.

The rates for rooms will be between $120 and $150 per night, but those will be negotiated by different businesses and event or meeting hosts based on volume. The university will have a negotiated rate as well.

Pomrenke declined to disclose the occupancy rate that O’Reilly Hospitality Management has budgeted for, but he said the hotel hopes to be a leader in the market.

“The nice thing about a conference hotel in a market like Jonesboro is our competitors usually like a hotel like ours because we bring in a conference that fills up our hotel and we’re able to push demand to other hotels,” he said.

The Jonesboro market is a good one, Pomrenke said, because most of the city’s hotels are sold out during the week, though the weekends are “hit or miss,” depending on what activities are scheduled.

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In addition, the project will employ 125 to 150 in full- and part-time positions, he said. One of those part-time positions has already been filled, by his spring intern.

The internship program is part of the hotel’s and convention center’s efforts to partner with the university’s hospitality management program. The plan is also to let professors hold their classes on site.

“We’re actively working with A-State on improving the program and enhancing it to a point where we’re going to be using the hotel spaces for what we call ‘learning labs,’” Pomrenke said.

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