Dear Friends of Downtown Little Rock:
At the September 4, 2008 Executive Committee meeting of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership (DLRP) Board, I was unanimously authorized to write in support of the proposed development of an Aloft hotel at the southwest corner of President Clinton Avenue and Commerce Street and its request for a height variance from 4 stories to 7 stories. It is our belief that a hotel in that location is pivotal to the continuing success of the River Market District and that the height variance would be in character with the District.
As you may be aware, DLRP was in the lead in the development of River Market Hall, and we are still very much involved in development in the River Market District. The whole concept for the River Market was to leverage the public investment to achieve private sector investment. We believe that a proposed Aloft hotel is a $20 million project for our city and our downtown.
Let me outline a few points that we believe are important in this decision.
Land Use Rationale:
1. The River Market District is an eclectic mix of new and old structures that house retail, restaurants, bars/clubs, loft apartments and condominiums. It is anchored by the City Library, the Clinton Library, Heifer International and the Convention Center, as well as other hotels.
2. The Aloft hotel will replace an existing surface parking lot (which is cause for celebration), creating new life and energy on a 24/7 basis.
3. In addition to much needed guest rooms/meeting space, the new hotel will feature badly needed retail space on President Clinton Avenue.
1. The River Market District has an interesting assortment of architectural styles that give the District its character.
2. The 48 foot height limitation required by the Design Overlay District was an arbitrary standard created 14 years ago when many of the existing buildings exceeded the 48 foot height requirement. For example, the Main Library is 76 feet, the Museum Center is over 90 feet, the Melton Building 52 feet, and the newly constructed buildings First Security Building 160 feet, River Market Parking Deck 66 feet, and the new Arkansas Studies Institute, part of the Central Library System 62 feet. All of these buildings and their heights blend well together in the neighborhood. See the attached sketch.
3. The Aloft hotel will be an urban building designed by local architect Rick Redden who is responsible for many wonderful buildings already in the River Market District . The proposed building's "L" shaped configuration will include retail space on Clinton Avenue. The vehicular entrance will be on Commerce and the open courtyard entrance will provide a natural light to the library buildings and open onto the new adjacent pedestrian walkways. Aloft will be designed to draw guests from their rooms to mix and mingle.
4. As part of the design the hotel façade above the retail will be a setback complementing the streetscape.
The Aloft, a Starwood property, is a quality property that will significantly benefit the district economically:
1. This $20 million project will add 75 new jobs and 150 jobs during construction.
2. Property taxes will increase from the current level of $1452 per year to approximately $280,000, yielding the library almost 200 times more than they currently receive from this property.
3. The hotel will pay about $480,000 in sales tax annually, $180,000 of which will go to Little Rock.
4. Total taxes will increase 500 fold from $1452 to approximately $760,000.
5. The developer, McKibbon Group from Gainesville, Georgia, has developed the Marriott Courtyard on Clinton Avenue and the Hampton Inn Suites on Commerce (open October 2008) with 240 rooms. Aloft will increase that to over 380 rooms for visitors and conventioneers who will shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants enhancing the overall tourism business.
6. Parking for the hotel will be in the underutilized River Market Parking Deck and contribute revenue to pay off existing outstanding bonds.
For these reasons we are requesting that you support the height variance requested by the developers of the Aloft hotel.