by Max Brantley
David Koon is just back from Warren Stephens' noontime speech at the Clinton School. Though comments on the Little Rock school situation had been forecast, Stephens, chief of the Stephens financial empire, generally sidestepped that issue.
He did say his Capital Hotel, undergoing a complete renovation, will open earlier than we'd heard, on Sept. 1, with fewer rooms, as a boutique hotel with a new chef in the kitchen and other improvements throughout.
Sorry, movie fans. The project to renovate the Center Theater on Main Street is still on a backburner, at least three years away.
We'll be posting some video later on our video blog. On the jump, additional notes from David Koon:
Warren Stephens, speaking at the Clinton School today — mainly on "Business Assets of Little Rock" (he mentioned UAMS/Childrens' Hospital, the Little Rock Air Force Base, and Stephens, Inc.) — ended up addressing a range of issues, from the recent proposed sales of Alltel and Acxiom, to his plans for the Capital Hotel and the Center Theater.
Early on, Stephens took time to address whether there was a conflict of interest in Stephens, Inc.'s involvement as an advisor in the sale of Alltel to a private equity firm. The Stephens family is the largest private shareholder in Alltel: "As a firm, we never ever put or fees in front of the interests of the stockholders of the company we're representing. Never. It goes against our culture, it's not right, it's the wrong thing to do. Life's too short. We're not going to do that. To somehow allege [a conflict of interest] with the Alltel transaction, where we own 10 million shares as a family, defies any logic."
Stephens made a point of speaking only briefly on current turmoil between the Little Rock School Board and Superintendent Roy Brooks: "It is vitally important to find a way for our school district to move forward and to continue to improve the schools. The things I have seen and read -- we're in the newspaper business too, and with all due respect to Walter [Hussman] — you've got to take everything you read in the newspaper with a grain of salt.... But what I've read, some of the things I've seen Superintendent Brooks propose in terms of the schools seem pretty reasonable for me as a businessman. That is a very superficial, over the top view of that, and that's all I'm really going to say about it."