The hotel attached to the Pine Bluff Convention Center has new owners with big plans for the future.


On Monday, Maurice Taggart, the director of the Urban Renewal Agency signed paperwork purchasing the hotel, which is called the Plaza Hotel, for $1.2 million.


“This is a great Christmas gift for Pine Bluff,” Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff said after the paperwork was signed. The Urban Renewal Agency is a part of the Go Forward Pine Bluff program approved by voters two years ago.


Convention Center Executive Director Joseph McCorvy said the center has sent out a request for qualifications to hotel management companies who might be interested in operating the hotel and responses to that request are due Dec. 27. In a previous interview, McCorvy said it was important to attract a major chain like Hilton or Marriott to Pine Bluff.


Mayor Shirley Washington was also on hand and said a hotel attached to the convention center is important to improving the economy of the city. For example, Washington said close to a thousand people have attended swim meets at the newly opened Aquatic Center, many from out of town, and in the summer, up to 20 softball teams compete in tournaments at Regional Park, with many players and parents arriving on Friday so that the players can play early Saturday.


Adding to that, McCorvy said the convention center has lost business because of the current condition of the hotel, including two major sporting events, the 2020 SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Conference) basketball tournament and the GAC (Great American Conference) basketball tournament. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff plays in the SWAC while the University of Arkansas at Monticello is a member of the GAC.


In October, the Civic Auditorium Complex Commission voted unanimously to accept a resolution calling for Urban Renewal to turn the property over to the commission.


Extensive renovations will be necessary before the hotel is able to begin operation and the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission voted in October to “support the establishment of a convention center and hotel complex; support the design and cost estimate phase: continent on the renovation costs will consider allocating a portion of the so-called hamburger tax to satisfy debt service and if the hotel’s profits exceed the debt service requirement, the Advertising and Promotion Commission will be relieved of financial responsibilities associated with the hotel.”


The A & P Commission collects a two-percent tax on prepared food and beverage purchases and a three-percent tax on all hotel ad motel room stays within the city of Pine Bluff.