Evelyn Horton, chief inspector of the Pine Bluff Quality of Life Division, said that there has not been a thorough assessment done at the hotel as far as code enforcement, but the department plans to conduct one within the next two weeks.

It doesn’t have to be a top-level brand like Holiday Inn; there are some other brands out there that will attract people and business for both the convention center and the hotel   Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington on the Plaza Hotel  

Offering 200 rooms, eight conference areas, space for two bars and a restaurant, the Plaza Hotel just off of Eighth Avenue is sitting on what some say is one of the most important pieces of property in Pine Bluff.

But the hotel has been inhospitable for several years due to a lack of upkeep. Because it is connected to the Pine Bluff Convention Center, the hotel can contribute to or take away from big events looking for a host, according to city officials.

Pine Bluff Convention Center Director Joseph McCorvey said the hotel’s condition is one of the main reasons why conventions are rarely booked here.

“As far as the property, in my opinion, we’re going to need a city intervention,” McCorvey said. “The owner claims that when we book business in the convention center, he will fix the hotel up, but that’s not what he said when he first purchased the hotel.”

McCorvey said that the hotel owner, Mukesh Patel, had originally said he would invest money into renovating the property and making it accommodating for visitors.

“Meanwhile, we can’t be competitive, because without the hotel, it makes it difficult for us to make a sale and get conventions in the center,” McCorvey said.

Convention centers with attached hotels are essential to urban economic growth, convention industry experts agree. They have the power to influence how a city is shaped, including who lives there, who works there, and who visits year-to-year. Conferences and other face-to-face meetings can determine what other industries flock to the region and ultimately whether long-term investment opportunities will succeed or fail.

Patel said he doesn’t plan to do any additional upgrades to the hotel, but he is willing to work with the city and potential buyers.

“I am a businessman and I love money, so I’m open to selling the hotel,” he said. “If anyone wants to call and speak with me about business, I’m open to talking.”

In a Commercial article published in 2017, it was reported that the hotel, which shut down for several weeks, had recently re-opened for business after Patel said he invested $500,000 to upgrade its amenities. Debra Allen, an independent hospitality consultant to JM Hotels Inc. who no longer works with Patel, said that he would operate as the Plaza Hotel for one year and then work to become part of a franchise.

But that never happened.

Evelyn Horton, chief inspector of the Pine Bluff Quality of Life Division, said that there has not been a thorough assessment done at the hotel as far as code enforcement, but the department plans to conduct one within the next two weeks. The Commercial is planning a follow-up article after that assessment is made.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said that the Jefferson County Health Department had been sent over to the hotel to do an inspection after a guest filed a complaint about bed bugs.

“At the time, the Health Department did not find anything, and I am glad about that,” Washington said. “That is the only complaint I’ve received from any guests that have stayed at the hotel.”

Other convention centers with hotel connections have expressed the importance of the connection and how the centers have impacted their cities.

“Lodging availability and accessibility is very important to all convention centers and its clients,” said Timothy Seeberg, general manager of the Fort Smith Convention Center.

He went on to say that for the client and its guests, a lodging property attached to a convention center is an ideal arrangement and thus becomes a critical selling point for both the convention center sales staff and hotel sales staff. The connectivity helps create a seamless service experience for the event guests, something that is very important to the event planners/organizers. This arrangement will be a major factor in site selection for the event organizer, Seeberg said, adding that it is an important asset that both the convention center sales team and hotel sales team can use to their advantage when cross-selling their venues/services.

Seeberg said The Fort Smith Convention Center in recent years has hosted numerous events whose attendees are from outside their region, which results in most of the event’s attendees staying overnight in local lodging establishments (hotels). Depending on the year, these events have been responsible for between $15 and $40 million direct economic impact to their city and region annually. This attendee spending has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in retail tax revenues for Fort Smith annually.

Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a convention center is an economic generator and local amenity for a community. A convention center helps create a positive economic impact by attracting meetings and conventions to come to town, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and spend money on local services and entertainment options. A convention center also acts as a local amenity by providing a place for residents and local organizations to host special events and festivals.

“In 2017, there were 172 events and over 300,000 patrons at the Statehouse Convention Center,” Hall said, referencing to how the convention center impacts the city. The Statehouse Convention Center is connected to the Little Rock Marriott Hotel.

Back in Pine Bluff, Washington has hopes for the Plaza Hotel’s future.

“With GoForward and everything that we are doing in Pine Bluff, we are trying to make Pine Bluff a destination city,” Washington said. “One of the ways we feel like we can really make this place a destination city is to book events at the convention center throughout the year, and we need a hotel that meets customer satisfaction, which is critical when it comes down to people wanting to stay in the hotel.”

Washington said she has visited the hotel on many occasions and has met with Patel regarding the homecoming celebration where she questioned him regarding what could be done to have the hotel ready for the guests that visit during that time.

“As far as helping him (Patel) to bring the building up to a higher standard, as a city, we can’t do that,” the mayor said. “It’s not that we don’t care; we promote business and that’s the best we can do. When we promote the convention center, we want to promote the hotel and vice versa because we want them both to thrive.”

Washington added that she would like to see someone buy the hotel and brand it since the owner is open to selling it.

“It doesn’t have to be a top-level brand like Holiday Inn; there are some other brands out there that will attract people and business for both the convention center and the hotel,” she said.