Not even the owner of Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa in Hot Springs, one of the most iconic structures in Arkansas, could convince an order of Benedictine Sisters to halt their plans to demolish the almost 100-year-old St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith.
A statement from the CEO of Sky Capital Group, which owns the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa, regarding St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith and posted to the Arlington’s Facebook Page Friday (June 3) left many on social media speculating if the historic building on Albert Pike could be saved from the wrecking ball. The Benedictine Sisters of Scholastica Monastery confirmed Monday (June 6) that demolition plans are still in place.
The Arlington’s post contained a statement from Al Rajabi, CEO of Sky Capital Group, in which he said he wanted to speak on the topic of historic preservation.
“Currently, I own one of the largest historic buildings in the state of Arkansas, the Arlington Hotel and Spa… For four years, we have invested our future in Arkansas’s past and brought this 450,000 square foot treasure back to life. The Arlington was also built in 1924, but when we purchased the building, it had suffered from decades of neglect and was in much worse shape than the Saint Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith,” the statement said.
Rajabi said in the 1920s buildings were made different than today and were made to withstand time.
“It is quite rare to see a building in this remarkable shape,” Rajabi said of the monastery, which is scheduled for demolition. “To the untrained eye, chipping paint, outdated electric and plumbing may seem like a daunting task, but there are a myriad of programs developers like myself use to restore and preserve these gracious giants.”
The monastery at 1301 S. Albert Pike Ave. – near Trinity Junior High School – is the former home of the Benedictine Sisters. The Sisters announced on May 10 that they would begin demolition of the almost 100-year-old building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. The first part of the old monastery building on Albert Pike was built in 1923-1924 in the late Gothic Revival style of architecture. F.W. Redlich from Oklahoma City was the architect of the five-story building. An addition was built on the north side of the original building in 1929, including a chapel, gym, swimming pool and chaplain’s quarters.
It is estimated the building would need $15 million just to get into a condition where renovation and restoration would be possible.
Rajabi said in his statement there are developers who are willing to work with the sisters in order to save the building.
“Based on the interior photos and the aerial photos I have seen taken recently of the building, this is a simple save. Please do not allow the easy road to erase our collective past. I can personally attest that many developers like myself are interested and could create residual income for decades for the nuns. They could simply lease the property long-term to a developer who will abide by their wishes and ideas for repurposing the building,” Rajabi said.
Jennifer Burchett, communications consultant for the monastery, said Monday their plans will continue.
“While the sisters privately reflect on and consider all information presented to them, they maintain their confidence and conviction in their decision to demolish the Former Monastery Building based on the financial, economic, and spiritual constraints surrounding their property,” Burchett said. “Throughout their 10-year process to find a viable use for the Former Monastery Building, they consulted with several business and real estate professionals, in addition to other monasteries around the country who faced similar circumstances with their original monasteries.
“The Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery learned from the advice and experience of their advisors, and will move forward with demolition,” she added.
The sisters also have rebuffed efforts by Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Fort Smith Mayor George McGill, community activist Ken Kupchick and others to stall demolition until a plan could be developed to save the structure.
Jimmie Deer, director of building services for the city of Fort Smith, said Catoosa, Okla.-based DT Specialized Services has been contracted by the Sisters to demolish the building. Deer said he met on May 28 with DT officials to begin the process of getting documents together to obtain a demolition permit from the city. He said it will likely be about three weeks before DT is permitted to begin the demolition work.