December 2, 2023

Committee hears case for razing Plaza Hotel

The head of the Pine Bluff Convention Center told a city council committee on Monday…

Committee hears case for razing Plaza Hotel

The head of the Pine Bluff Convention Center told a city council committee on Monday that hotel experts believe that if the city wants a hotel attached to the convention center, the Plaza Hotel should be torn down and a new hotel built.

The Plaza Hotel, which was purchased by the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency for $1.2 million in 2019, was the topic of discussion during the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion committee meeting on Monday, with Joseph McCorvey, executive director of the Pine Bluff Convention Center, asked by committee members to explain what he meant last month when he said “the hotel was done.”

McCorvey has said before that, in his opinion, the city would be better off tearing down the hotel — which has been in and out of operation over the past several years — and building a new one. After a walk-through a few months ago that included Mayor Shirley Washington and representatives from Beechwood Pinnacle Hotels, a Little Rock hotel management and development company that was selected to oversee the development of the hotel property, McCorvey said he is not the only person who feels that way.

“We had, along with the mayor, some other persons that went through the hotel taking a look at its current condition,” McCorvey told committee members. “The persons that were here took a look at it and basically, as well as the hotel management company that was selected by the … committee, and it was their opinion the current condition of the hotel was pretty much in a state of disrepair.”

A large piece of the hotel’s facade broke away from the exterior several months ago revealing the interior of one of the rooms. But there has been additional, perhaps more serious, damage occurring, McCorvey said.

“We’ve had water damage in the building that has leaked out,” McCorvey said, adding that the city was supposed to turn off the water but apparently had not. “We found out that water has trickled down from the fourth floor all the way down to the lobby, destroying a lot of things. It’s not feasible.”

The hotel, which is connected to the city’s convention center, would help the city attract conventions, business and church conferences, sporting events and other activities. In a previous interview with the Pine Bluff Commercial, McCorvey said the convention center, in order to be viable, needs a quality hotel as a selling point.

That quality hotel McCorvey hopes to attract is a Hilton. But in order for the hotel to attract a Hilton-brand flag, the facility would have to meet the Hilton standards, which, he said, would be almost impossible at this point.

“The hotel really is not in any condition to do a renovation, and it would be more expensive if you were trying to do a renovation,” McCorvey explained to the committee, repeating what had been said by the management and development company, which has 17 Hilton properties in Arkansas.

One problem is that the pool is in the lobby and would have to be moved to meet Hilton standards, and things such as the heating and air conditioning system and energy-efficient windows would need to be installed and up to code.

“It was deemed by them, rather than spend $75,000 for an engineering company to come in, it was better to cut our losses and look at a total rebuild of the hotel,” said McCorvey.

Last month, McCorvey said a committee looking into the hotel situation wanted to renovate the Plaza Hotel. But questions asked during Monday’s meeting, such as how much the demolition would cost and where the money would come from, couldn’t be answered by McCorvey because the committee has not had another meeting.

“When the meeting is held we can look at the options, what it cost to do a total renovation as well as what it cost to do a new build,” he said.

A 2020 franchise disclosure document states that for Hilton Franchise Holding LLC. to operate a Hilton Hotel under a franchise agreement, the total investment necessary to begin operation of a typical 300-room Hilton hotel, excluding real property, is between about $30.6 million and $129 million, including up to almost a half-million dollars that must be paid to the holding company or its affiliates.

A Hilton-brand hotel, however, would automatically give the city of Pine Bluff business access, even when a convention is not being held next door, according to McCorvey.

“You automatically have access to loyalty members who travel, and when they come through, that helps with the average daily rate and the occupancy rate,” he said. “It will cost more money to renovate the property in order to attract the Hilton flag, which we sorely need in order to bring business to the city of Pine Bluff.”