Hotel on campus could be A-State future

By Bethany Gallimore
On February 3, 2014

A hotel and conference center complex, including a restaurant, gift shop, and hospitalist management program, could be in the future for the ASUJ campus.

Discussion has been ongoing since September about the possible construction of a 150-plus room hotel on the previous site of the track and field complex between Red Wolf Boulevard and Olympic Drive. The site’s central location between the Fowler Center, Convocation Center and Liberty Bank Stadium make it ideal for overnight visitors to A-State, according to Shawnie Carrier, chief of staff for the office of the chancellor.

ASU is reviewing proposals from two development firms for the hotel and conference center project. Wallace Bajjali Development Partners LP of Sugar Land, Texas, in partnership with O’Reilly Hospitality Management LLC, and Jonesboro Hotel and Convention Center LLC, led by the Keller family of Effingham, Ill., are competing for the rights to the potential construction and management initiative.

Wallace Bajjali has proposed a 150-room hotel and outlined plans for 75,000 square feet of conference and meeting room areas.

The plan outlined by Jonesboro Hotel and Convention Center would create a 150-plus room hotel with a 30,000 square foot convention center and 45,000 square foot exhibit hall.

The Jonesboro Hotel and Convention Center proposal is currently undergoing additional evaluation by development committees and Chancellor Tim Hudson. If approved, the motion will pass to the board of trustees and ASU System President Charles Welch.

“We are going to continue due diligence with this one group to see if we can come to a contract we both are happy with,” Carrier said.

No additional fees would be charged to the students of A-State for the development of the conference center. Funding will come from a private developer, according to Carrier.

“This is not a project that the university is funding,” Carrier said. “The part that the university is playing is that it’s on our property.”

Under the proposals ASU would lease the land between Red Wolf Boulevard and Olympic Drive to a selected company which would be responsible for the development, construction and establishment of a hotel and convention center.

“This is a great opportunity for us to receive funding that we otherwise would not have,” Carrier said.

“And that funding is actually coming from the equity value of the land,” said William Stripling, vice chancellor for student affairs.

The opening of the conference center could boost the Northeast Arkansas economy, according to Carrier. Large-scale conferences and events could be hosted at the hotel site and channel more revenue into the Jonesboro area.

“There are a ton of groups out there who would love to host an event in Northeast Arkansas but have never had the opportunity because we haven’t had the space available,” Carrier said. “Truly what we’re trying to do is tap into those events that haven’t already been here, that need a space like this.”

In addition, the on-site hotel location would give A-State fans the unique opportunity to make use of lodging within walking distance of sports events and summer camps.

“You find (hotels and conference centers) on the large campuses,” Stripling said. “These vendors have found an interest here. They’ve found a market that’s sustainable.”

The hotel and conference center could also be a potential launch site for an A-State hospitality management degree program.

Both business proposals being considered by the university include allowances for classrooms and internships for the hospitality program.

A general plan for constructing an on-campus hotel and conference center complex has been under consideration by university marketing and advancement for some time. Questions about security, lease requirements and parking space are still being worked through by university committees.

“We have many details to consider before proceeding with this project,” Hudson said in a press release. “But the concept has merit and is worth pursuing as another transformative possibility for our university and for Northeast Arkansas.”

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