New Bentonville company seeks to reimagine hospitality concepts

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 7,963 views 

Ramsay Ball, from left, Scott Bowman and Jeff Glasco are the managing partners of HighGround Hospitality.

A little more than two years after exiting the restaurant business, longtime operator Scott Bowman is writing the next chapter of his hospitality career.

Bowman is CEO and one of three managing partners of HighGround Hospitality in Bentonville. The company has been operating quietly for the past several months while forming its investment strategy but appears ready to move quickly after its initial acquisition in August.

Bowman has nearly 30 years of experience in the food and beverage business in multiple markets, including Atlanta and Boston. A Fort Smith native, he relocated to Fayetteville in 2005 and opened Theo’s in downtown Fayetteville.

Over the next 15 years, Bowman Restaurant Group (BRG) opened over a dozen restaurants, bars and hotel food and beverage concepts, becoming one of the region’s premier hospitality companies. But in 2020, he sold BRG after the pandemic changed the equation for the restaurant industry.

With HighGround, Bowman said he is most excited about the team and its qualifications. They span numerous industries, from hospitality and real estate, strategy, architecture and design, hotel development, luxury wellness and finance. They bring together a wide range of experiences to design, build and operate a new generation of hospitality concepts.

Ramsay Ball of Bentonville and Jeff Glasco of Kansas City, Mo., are also managing partners. Ball is a real estate executive and investor with nearly 35 years of experience in Arkansas. Glasco is an entrepreneur and business strategist.

“To have this full range of capabilities [working together] is unheard of right now,” Bowman said in a recent interview. “I have been able to work with many talented people over the years but never a collection working on the same project at the same time, sharing the same values. That’s a big deal for me.”

Glasco began his career with Accenture and spent the past 10 years creating several new ventures. He said many of the principals had worked together on other projects, and he has confidence that collectively, their skills and experience can be disruptive.

“It’s unique,” he said. “I’ve not experienced anything like this regarding how the team has come together.”

Bowman believes the founding team’s broad range of capabilities gives HighGround an advantage for prospective clients.

“Whether we are establishing and developing new brands, partnering with clients, offering professional services, that’s where we come in with immediate capabilities from day one,” he said.

Glasco believes the hospitality industry is poised to benefit from remote working and consumers who discovered the outdoors when the pandemic began in 2020.

The 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation, revealed that in 2020, 53% of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior.

“We feel like there is a big opportunity to meet consumers where they are,” he said. “And where they are today is looking for unique experiences. They don’t have to be mind-blowing experiences. Strategically, the common thread is wellness. Creating spaces where you can rest and recharge while on the road. That will be a key component of all of these projects.

“Where the modern consumer is is where we want to be. We don’t think many companies are doing that to scale.”

Bowman said HighGround has nearly a dozen new and existing concepts in various development stages and are spread from coast to coast and even the U.S. Virgin Islands. They focus on wellness, adventure travel, food and beverage and lifestyle/luxury hotels.

The company’s initial project is an Arizona angling destination. HighGround put together and raised $4.5 million from investors to buy Cliff Dwellers Lodge in Marble Canyon and two associated businesses.

From Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, Cliff Dwellers offers some of the best trout fishing and paddle sports on the Colorado River tailwaters.

The previous owners intended to sell the property to partners who could deploy fresh capital to enhance its offerings for future generations of adventurers.

HighGround is investing in updating the property’s 21-room hotel, amenities, operations and employee experiences.

“With Cliff Dwellers, we have a unique opportunity to somewhat reimagine and retool this already incredible operating business for the next 20 years,” Bowman said.

On the immediate horizon, HighGround is establishing three new brands, two in the outdoor recreation space.

Sky Outpost is an urban camping site on nearly 5 acres in downtown Grand Junction, Colo., on the banks of the Colorado River. HighGround partnered with founder Jen Taylor, a Grand Junction resident, to bring her vision to life.

HighGround offered Taylor a true partnership to ensure the concept’s development and financial viability.

Once completed, Sky Outpost will provide a place to recharge and relax for mountain travelers, hikers, and bikers. Accommodations include tents, cabins, retro trailers, RVs, and camper vans.

El Jet’s Cantina is a restaurant concept adjoining Sky Outpost or can stand alone.

Idyllwood is a natural adventure retreat concept with basecamps, cabins and tents designed for regional or remote destinations. The first location is an 80-acre woodlands site in Northfield, Mass., adjacent to the Connecticut River and is a public-private partnership. The site is under construction, with a projected opening in 2023 or 2024.

HighGround has partnered with Incredible Building Co. in Kansas City, Mo., to supply soft-wall basecamp dwellings and hard-wall cabins for all its outdoor recreation brands. It is a separate company related to HighGround, owned by Glasco and Christian Arnold, a HighGround partner and the company’s architecture and design lead.

“The initial vision for Incredible Building Co. is servicing clients like HighGround,” Glasco said. “If you look at the demand for two initial sites — Idyllwood and Sky Outpost — we’ll need a product for those. So, we are essentially building for those two.”

HighGround is creating a buzz with a cabin from Incredible Building Co. on display in a vacant lot at 200 E. Central Ave. The property owners will soon develop the site into a 142-room, full-service hotel scheduled to open in 2024. Bentonville holding company Runway Group, led by Walton heirs Tom and Steuart Walton, is the developer, and a Walton affiliate owns the land.

“We have a permit to have the cabin there until mid-October, and we’re fortunate that the city and property owners let us come in there and do that,” Glasco said. “They were very generous. We wanted to launch one in Bentonville because this is a hub for outdoor recreation.”

Glasco said Incredible Building Co. focuses on fulfilling retail orders, which will eventually be available to consumers.

HighGround is also working on a lifestyle hotel concept called The Line Up, envisioned to support traveling youth sports teams, families and weekend getaway travelers.

Bowman said HighGround is under contract to buy an existing three-story hotel at the Legends Outlets retail complex in Kansas City, Kan., and convert it to The Lineup at Monarch Village. The deal is expected to close in November, with renovations beginning early in 2023.

HighGround will expand The Line Up locations across the U.S. by identifying high-traffic areas with sports facilities and partnerships with facility operators. The company has already identified more than a dozen possible locations in 10 states.

Glasco said HighGround’s $4.5 million capital raise via special purpose vehicle (SPV) was from individual investors, many of them from Northwest Arkansas. The strategy for initial projects is to continue tapping a regional network of angel investors in Northwest Arkansas and the Kansas City metro.

He said HighGround expects to deploy between $15 million and $25 million in capital in the next three to six months.

“So far, the response with angel investors has been very hot,” he said. “Especially for Cliff Dwellers. It’s such an anomaly of a property. The fact that we could get that deal done is a testament to the investor appetite. Now, we’re beginning to have talks with more institutional investors, where they can take on bigger chunks of opportunity.”

Bowman said earning investor loyalty is crucial to HighGround’s growth strategy.

“We are building a network of investors, and we want them to be lifelong investors in HighGround,” he said. “Cliff Dwellers investors are given an opportunity to come on board with the next project that may be a good fit for them. We are building a good base and showing loyalty with them as well.”