The Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency plans to buy the hotel attached to the convention center, then turn it over to the Civic Auditorium Complex Commission.
On Tuesday, that commission voted unanimously to approve a resolution accepting the terms of the deal.
According to the resolution, the condition of the hotel, called the Hotel and Suites at 2 Convention Center Drive “harms the recruitment of conventions and entertainment that will have a significant economic impact on the city of Pine Bluff.”
Convention Center Director Joseph McCorvy said Tuesday that the commission plans to take ownership of the property in six months after extensive renovations are completed.
“After the renovations are complete, we will be able to get the convention center back in play to attract tournaments and conventions,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of business because because the hotel is in disrepair.”
To pay for the renovations, the Advertising and Promotion Commission is being asked to designate the debt service associated with a bond issued by the Civic Auditorium Commission as a budget priority for 2020.
The A&P Commission collects a two-percent tourism tax on all food and beverage purchases and a three-percent tax on all hotel and motel stays within the city of Pine Bluff.
According to a resolution approved by the Development and Planning Committee of the Pine Bluff City Council Tuesday afternoon, those revenues have increased over the past two years and are above projections for this year.
The resolution, which was recommended for approval by the committee and will go to the full council Monday goes on to say that a feasibility study indicated that a renovated hotel is profitable and therefore would only encumber the A&P Commission in the event that revenues from the hotel are less than profitable.
During the meeting Tuesday afternoon, Ryan Watley, the CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff said the feasibility study indicated that a 63 percent occupancy rate for the hotel would generate significant revenue.
The renovations are expected to take 14 to 18 months and cost between eight and ten million dollars and McCorvy said during that time, the commission will be preparing a request for qualifications to operate the facility with the hope of attracting a major chain like Marriott or Hilton to Pine Bluff.
“It’s only 200 rooms but with the casino hotel going up and the other properties here, Pine Bluff will be able to handle 500 or more people for conventions,” he said. “Plus, unlike bigger cities, it’s a lot easier to move around in Pine Bluff and shuttle service can move people around.”
The Urban Renewal Agency is part of the Go Forward Pine Bluff program approved by city voters two years ago and Watley described the agreement as “an exciting day for Pine Bluff.”
“This is what the people voted for,” Watley said.
Both Watley and McCorvy mentioned not only the potential for the hotel but other things that are happening in the city which are also positive, starting with the recently opened Aquatic Center, for which Go Forward chipped in $4 million. Also more than $800,000 spent on renovations to the convention center, a new library downtown and the casino and resort.
“Pine Bluff is in a position to get a much needed economic boost and also more jobs,” McCorvy said.