Tim O’Reilly, developer for a convention center project affiliated with Arkansas State University, said the company will soon begin construction on the project. He also said the market will “definitely not” support two convention centers – a reference to a competing project pushed by Mayor Harold Perrin.
Also, the Delta Regional Authority approved a $404,983 investment for site preparation and improvements at the 11-acre location where the Red Wolf Regional Convention Center and adjacent Embassy Suites will be built.
Springfield based O’Reilly Hospitality Management will build a 202-room Embassy Suites Hotel, a 40,000-square-foot convention center, and a Houlihan’s Restaurant. The complex will be on ASU property and leased to O’Reilly, and is located on Red Wolf Boulevard on the ASU campus between the Centennial Bank Stadium (football), Tomlinson Stadium (baseball) and Convocation Center. A statement from O’Reilly noted that the project “will serve as a hub of campus activity and events, as well as a ‘living laboratory’ for the university hospitality program.
When completed, the project is expected to have an annual economic impact of $44 million, driven largely by 300 new jobs at the convention center and hotel plus another 100 jobs in related businesses and industries, according to an impact analysis developed by the ASU College of Business and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
“We have continued to work through the business model for this project including receipt of a recent significant grant from the Delta Regional Authority, and with the assistance of the University as our partner, as well as various other incentive programs, we have finalized the financial package and are awaiting the immediate approval by Hilton of our Embassy franchise application within the next 30 days” O’Reilly, CEO and managing member of O’Reilly Hospitality, said in a statement.
He also said the market will not support to convention centers, and that the partnership with ASU will allow the O’Reilly project to succeed.
“It is unfortunate both that there appears to be a political competition of sorts regarding our project and another convention center project that has been attempted for many years, and that there is definitely not a market or opportunity to succeed for two convention centers in Jonesboro,” O’Reilly said. “However, we have great faith in our partnership with A-State which when combined with the outpouring of support from many facets of the Jonesboro business and medical communities, the powerful Hilton/Embassy booking and global marketing and sales engine, and our team’s experience and past success with this type of project, and we will press forward without hesitation and we will persevere and succeed in this market.”
Perrin said Tuesday the market will support two convention centers.
“As a former banker, I can tell you there will be times when they will compete. That’s just being honest,” Perrin said. “But with the closing of the fair grounds and Jonesboro’s need for more hotel rooms and venue space, I believe both can succeed. Ultimately, we are happy for Arkansas State University and Jonesboro, because these two venues will attract business and promote both the city and the university.”
ASU Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson said the project will help with student recruitment, support of the new hospitality management program, and even help support the new osteopathic medical school. ASU College of Business students in the hospitality program, an emphasis area in business management, will participate in a semester-long internship as part of the program requirements, in partnership with O’Reilly Hospitality Management. The university plans to develop the program initially as a minor, then expand it into certification program, and eventually a major.
“Arkansas State is thrilled to partner with Tim O’Reilly and his team of professionals and industry experts at O’Reilly Hospitality Management,” Hudson said in a statement. “This innovative campus project will help define us further as a destination university. We will now install a new academic program in hospitality management that will attract students from across our entire region. As our recruitment footprint expands, the Embassy Suites Hotel will afford prospective students and their families as well as visiting artists and lecturers, sports teams, returning alumni and many others the convenience of staying in a first-class facility conveniently located on campus.”
Architectural plans are being finalized by O’Reilly Hospitality Management and Butler Rosenbury Architects of Springfield, Mo., with construction to begin within approximately 120 days, followed by a 15-16 month construction process.
Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, notified Hudson of his approval of the revised scope of the project on Tuesday (March 21).
“We are confident this investment of $404,983 will significantly contribute to Jonesboro’s local economy, the strength of Arkansas State University as a regional institution, and the region’s ability to attract visitors and investment from all over,” Masingill said.
“We are very appreciative of the investment in this public-private partnership by the Delta Regional Authority and the recognition of the Red Wolf Convention Center’s role in expanding educational and economic opportunities for our citizens,” Hudson said.