EL DORADO — El Dorado’s downtown will see a new addition to the Murphy Arts District by mid-2020 with the announcement of a new boutique hotel, and officials in Pine Bluff are eagerly watching.
That’s because Pine Bluff’s Go Forward Tax mirrors a tax El Dorado residents passed more than a decade ago. It has sparked economic development at a rapid pace in the downtown area of the Union County seat. Just this week, Maurice Taggart, director of the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency, said he has been studying El Dorado as a model for how our own city can be transformed.
Go Forward officials, including CEO Ryan Watley, have also pointed toward El Dorado as a model for success.
In a news release, officials with the El Dorado-based hotel ownership group announced that the new property, called The Haywood, is scheduled to have its groundbreaking in early 2019 with a target opening of March 2020. The hotel is anticipated to cost more than $14 million and will be developed by Newmark Moses Tucker Partners of Little Rock, the El Dorado News-Times reported.
The new addition will be located near Washington Avenue and Locust Street, just down the street from the Griffin Restaurant and First Financial Music Hall, and one block away from the downtown core and where big-name acts such as the Temptations, Toby Keith, Smokey Robinson and others have performed in the recently-created Murphy Arts District.
The land was contributed by BancorpSouth and deeded to the current ownership group. The project will be financed by First Financial Bank, and key development partners include the architecture firm AMR Architects and general contractor Clark Contractors. Advertising agency Eric Rob & Isaac will lead The Haywood’s branding and public relations efforts, and Beechwood Hospitality will manage and oversee all hotel operations.
Ray Nolan, senior VP of development for Newmark Moses Tucker Partners, did not respond to a message left by a News-Times reporter asking about who was in the ownership group of The Haywood. When asked, Bob Tarren, chief marketing officer of the Murphy Arts District, said he could not verify the members of the ownership group.
Austin Barrow, MAD president and COO, said in the release that The Haywood not only fills the need for new accommodations in downtown El Dorado, but also embodies the ambition and spirit of the Murphy Arts District.
He gave credit to the leadership and financial backing of the local ownership group in making the hotel a reality. All have deep ties to El Dorado, the vast majority of them serving as leaders in the community both on the corporate and nonprofit side. The group is driven by a commitment to making El Dorado culturally rich and economically prosperous, now and in the future.
“It wouldn’t be possible without them,” Barrow said. “And that’s important, because The Haywood is critical to the overall success of the district. The collective MAD experience is what matters, and The Haywood will be an important part of that.”
The new hotel will have four stories and 70 rooms, all on the second, third and fourth floors. It will include a pool and outdoor courtyard that will include a prominent fireplace and manicured landscaping. The area will be able to be reserved for private events, the release noted.
Nolan said in the release that programming and designing the first floor of the hotel will be a major focus of the project.
“You don’t have to live in El Dorado to feel the great sense of community it has,” Nolan said. “We want to create a place where everyone — locals, corporate travelers and weekend visitors to the Murphy Arts District — will feel at home.”
The hotel will include The Well, a full-service bar with a limited food menu, two big-screen TVs and an outdoor wraparound patio with ceiling fans and couches in a setting the release called a “sophisticated front porch.”
“The Well is at the heart of the project,” Jamie Moses, director of development for Newmark Moses Tucker Partners, said in the release. “It’s comfortable and refined at the same time.”
Just off the bar will be The Haywood’s signature “den,” which will include a TV, banquet and soft seating, featured art work, sconce lighting and a textured tile fireplace.
“The coziness of the space is intentional,” Moses said. “You can bring over a drink from the bar, sit by the fire and relax.”
The hotel’s lobby will provide a space for light breakfast and snacks, as well as a large table with charger and docking stations.
In the release, Nolan said the new hotel would seek to mirror the “energy and excitement” of MAD.
“What’s been done with the Murphy Arts District is amazing,” Nolan said. “(The Haywood has) been a special project to work on, and the end product will stand alone.”
The release noted that El Dorado is home to large operations of several public and private companies, including Murphy Oil, Murphy USA and PotlatchDeltic. The new hotel, it stated, “will capture the significant number of overnight visitors doing business with large area companies outside of El Dorado,” including Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
“El Dorado and surrounding towns like Camden are vital economic assets to Arkansas as a state,” said Terry Stewart, MAD chairman and CEO. “The problem is that there are no destination hotels of this quality where business travelers visiting the area can stay. The owners were adamant that The Haywood be the premier place for them.”
Moses acknowledged the importance of both the ownership groups’ and city’s support for the project, and said The Haywood could serve as a template for similar hotels in other cities and towns where growth initiatives are fueled by strong civic as well as corporate engagement.
“It’s not every day that you get this kind of buy-in,” he said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to be a small part of something transformative.”
The hotel will also be a half-block from the El Dorado Conference Center and could help the city compete for larger state and regional conventions, as well as trade shows and other events, according to the release.
“We need to be able to provide lodging that’s essentially adjacent to the conference center,” said Barry Bagwell, director of the conference center. “With the new hotel and the Murphy Arts District right outside our window, we can significantly enhance our offering and bring more business through our doors. It becomes a destination for those who need facilities like ours.”
Tarren agreed that The Haywood will help achieve the goal of attracting new people and organizations to the local area.
“It’s about getting people to El Dorado,” he said. “Of course, the district is part of that, the live concerts and festivals and shows. But the city needs companies and organizations to book their events here. The conference center needs to be able to offer lodging that’s basically right next door to it. With The Haywood, they’ll have a first-class hotel to do that.”
The hotel will be the latest addition to the multimillion-dollar arts district, which finished Phase 1 last year. Phase 1 included the Griffin Restaurant and Music Hall, along with a new 8,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, farmer’s market and 2-acre “destination playscape” for kids.
Phase II will include the renovation of the Rialto Theater and the McWilliams furniture building, which will be turned into an art exhibition gallery. No timeline has been announced for the second phase.
Back in Pine Bluff, officials are hoping that similar efforts can be made in the city’s struggling downtown area. Renovation efforts are already underway at the historic Hotel Pines on Main Street, and the return of the King Cotton Classic basketball tournament this December has many buzzing.
Watley, Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and a host of other local officials have said that downtown development is key to the city’s future growth.
“We want to see our downtown grow and thrive,” Washington has said in previous interviews with The Commercial. “It’s very important.”