Keller talks details about convention center project, says second hotel possible

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 206 views 

A second hotel may be built alongside a hotel/convention center that is slated to be built in Jonesboro along U.S. 63, an official with the company that wants to build the hotel/convention center said.

Forrest Langenfeld, an official with Keller Enterprises, said Wednesday (Jan. 6) during a stop in Jonesboro that several national hotel chains will visit Jonesboro next week to look over the 42-acre property for possible use. In September, officials with Keller announced plans to build a 152-room hotel and convention center at the former Arkansas Services Center site on U.S. 63.

The site has been vacant for several years after crews demolished the buildings on the land, which housed government buildings and several state agencies.

One of the developers, Gary Harpole, said 15 of the 42 acres on the site have been cleared for construction. Roughly 10 acres of the property will be used for the hotel/convention center. Harpole said during the press conference that the primary hotel, convention center and the possible second hotel will be built east to west on the property. Harpole said the site will also be used for retail and commercial businesses.

As for the second hotel, Langenfeld said the first hotel/convention center will be built first with officials making a decision on the second hotel as the market warrants.

The first phase of the project will be about $25 to $30 million, Langenfeld said, noting two private equity firms from Chicago and Minneapolis will help fund the construction. The project did have a commitment from a bank to help with the project, but officials made a decision to go the equity route, Langenfeld said.

As for the firms, Langenfeld would not name them but said details about the firms and the funding for the project would be released in about a week. However, other investors, Langenfeld said, include the Keller family and the developers of the project – Harpole, Carroll Caldwell, Jerry Halsey and Roddy Thrasher.

No official drawings or site plans have been developed on the project, Langenfeld said, noting architects will work on the project. However, a plat, or a scaled map, of the Keller project was filed in December with Jonesboro and Craighead County officials. The map showed that the 42 acres is divided into five separate lots, with the largest lot close to 10 acres.

Langenfeld said the last several months have been a whirlwind. Keller has worked on a convention center project in Jonesboro since 2008 and had been working with officials at Arkansas State University on a similar project before the deal fell through, Langenfeld said.

Officials with Missouri-based O’Reilly Hospitality Management are also working on a convention center project at the former ASU track complex. Under that project, a 200-room Embassy Suites, a 40,000-square-foot conference room and a Houlihan’s restaurant will be built.

On the feasibility of two convention center projects in Jonesboro, Langenfeld said a decision on O’Reilly continuing the project would be their call.

“It is up to their group to decide,” Langenfeld said. “We have nothing but respect for ASU. We worked with them and the (failure of the Keller project at ASU) was nothing from a lack of effort on ASU and the Keller group. It simply did not work out. … The feelings on feasibility, only they can answer. O’Reilly and ASU are good people and we want to be good neighbors.”

Langenfeld said the Keller group would not ask the city for funding, especially involving a $400,000 Delta Regional Authority grant that the city received several years ago. Plans had originally called for using the money to build a parking lot on the site but the idea has been scrapped. However, Langenfeld said Keller would make a presentation to the Jonesboro Advertising and Promotions Commission for funding.

Tim O’Reilly, an official with O’Reilly, is scheduled to make a presentation to the commission during its Jan. 13 meeting. When reached for comment late Wednesday, ASU system spokesman Jeff Hankins said the university had no comment regarding the Keller press conference or a recent response by Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin to a university alumni group, the Strong-Turner Chapter, other than to say: “Strong-Turner does not represent or speak for the university. Neither Arkansas State University nor O’Reilly Hospitality has requested funds from the city for the hotel/convention center project. Mr. O’Reilly outlined in a letter that his company would ask for financial considerations from the Advertising & Promotion Commission, which exists to promote tourism in Jonesboro and would benefit from the project.”

An attempt Wednesday afternoon to reach O’Reilly for comment was not successful.