Construction on Keller convention center project expected to resume despite financial setbacks

by George Jared (gjared@talkbusiness.net) 376 views 

Rendering of the possible Jonesboro hotel appearance with the Keller Convention Center project.

Northern Arkansas Hotel and Convention Center (NAHCC) CEO Chris Keller has returned $71,000 of the $75,000 the Jonesboro A&P gave to his organization to build a convention center. In a letter to the city, Keller said construction on the stalled $50 million project will resume in the coming months and it will be “coming out of the ground” within 120 days. The $4,000 not returned has already been spent on advertising and promotion.

Groundwork on a 78,000-square-foot convention center and 165-bed Hyatt Place Hotel was stopped earlier this year after liens were placed on the property adjacent to I-555 near its confluence with Caraway Road just off the city’s hotel row. Keller said his legal counsel is working to satisfy the liens and allow work to proceed. Investor issues led to financial issues, but Keller said investor Carl Kaeding should help get the project back on track.

“Carl is the owner of Kaeding Management Group LLC in Minneapolis, Minn., and is a principal partner in Midwest Hospitality Trust LP,” Keller said. “His companies have a long and successful history in the development, construction, and management of hotels and convention properties.”

Kaeding’s support will allow the organization to seek “traditional financing” for the project, he said. Final architectural plans should be finished within the next 60 days. The A&P commission had voted to give the project, originally known as the Keller project, $300,000 in $75,000 installments. NAHCC is also expected to get up to $600,000 in hotel tax credits. Keller said his organization won’t ask for those funds until the construction is finished. A timeframe for construction completion was not released.

The city A&P commission sent Keller a letter more than a month ago asking for the money back until the project resumed. Several other stipulations including a copy of the agreement between Hyatt and NAHCC were requested. Keller said the agreement is proprietary and he cannot release it. Since he won’t ask for any money until the project is complete, it’s a moot issue, he said.

Another convention center project is slated to be built on the campus of Arkansas State University. O’Reilly Hospitality Management of Springfield, Mo., is waiting for the city of Jonesboro to approve construction and architectural plans for a 202-bed Embassy Suites Hotel, the 40,000-square-foot Red Wolf Convention Center, and a Houlihan’s Restaurant, company CEO Tim O’Reilly previously told Talk Business & Politics. The project is expected to cost about $50 million.

O’Reilly didn’t think his project was subject to city permitting because it was on the ASU campus. But to avoid legal wrangling, the company opted to work with the city. The permitting process has slowed the finish date for the ASU convention center. Officials hope to have it completed by the start of the fall semester in 2018. O’Reilly has previously said his organization will approach the A&P seeking advertising and promotion funds and tax credits even though the A&P rejected its initial proposal and supported the Keller project instead.

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