by Max Brantley
The New Argenta Fund announced today plans for an 8- to 12-story, 130-room $28 million hotel in downtown North Little Rock on the site of the former Rye Furniture store. The projected completion date is 2010.
It's a lot easier to build an eight-story $28 million hotel in NLR, apparently, than it is in LR's River Market District. Apparently Mayor Pat Hays didn't phone Warren Stephens first to see if this hotel might create unacceptable competition for Stephens' Capital Hotel. (That's the key sticking point on a proposed Aloft Hotel in Little Rock.) And Hays doesn't seem concerned that the hotel will be at least four, and maybe eight, stories higher than the existing Argenta District four-story height limit. Seven stories has so far been too much for Little Rock city fathers for the proposed Aloft.
I spoke with John Gaudin of the New Argenta Fund and got a little additional information. Other investors, as yet unrevealed, will join the fund in the project. He said the group is in talks with several hotel operators, but isn't yet ready to announce a brand. He did say that the group had spoken with Aloft Hotels, but they were no longer in the mix.
He said a variance from historic district height limits would be required, but that the hotel design would follow "smart growth concepts" -- maximizing the frontage of the building, reducing surface parking and increasing density downtown.
Gaudin said the project likely couldn't go forward without public participation -- that is, Tax Increment Financing of public parking and meeting space. In this, the hotel would use normal property tax payments -- mostly a benefit to public schools -- to pay for the cost of these public improvements. He said he couldn't estimate the cost of that public contribution yet. A firm proposal should be before the City Council before the end of the year. The North Little Rock School Board will be asked an opinion, too. It has generally been resistant to endorse TIF projects because of the loss of property tax revenue for the period up to 25 years necessary to pay off bonds to pay for infrastructure. But the School Board's opinion is only advisory.