by Max Brantley
NEW LOOK: This, maybe, instead of a seven-story hotel at Clinton and Commerce.
All will proclaim this a win-win.
The controversial Aloft Hotel won't be built at Clinton and Commerce in the River Market District.
But it will still be built, two blocks south, at Commerce and Third, across the street from the Vermillion restaurant on what is now yet another parking lot owned by Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman. Details were announced late this afternoon by Moses Tucker Real Estate, the developer.
The McKibbon Hotel Group, which already operates the Courtyard by Marriott and the Hampton Inn in the River Market neighborhood, had struck a deal to buy the lot on Clinton Ave. from Hussman for a seven-story Aloft Hotel. Library Director Bobby Roberts opposed the building as out of character with the neighborhood, which has a 48-foot height limitation (exceeded by any number of neighboring structures.) Billionaire financier Warren Stephens, who owns the nearby ritzy Capital Hotel, also provided key opposition. His employees said the competition would be damaging to his recently renovated hotel. (His spokesman later said they were more concerned with protecting the sanctity of the standards of the River Market Design Overlay District than with competitive pressure. Note: Stephens himself benefitted from a zoning variance and a free contribution of city right of way for his Capital Hotel remodeling project.)
Little Rock officials ran to cover after Stephens' opposition (and from the Peabody Hotel) emerged. The hotel seemed headed to defeat, even though design changes had been made to make the hotel more palatable.
Today came an unexpected solution. McKibbon will still buy the lot that Roberts once wanted for a library auditorium. When the economy justifies it and he has tenants, he'll use it for a retail and perhaps residential development of up to four stories. A rendering is shown at the top. But this project is only in the conceptual stage.
Roberts has reportedly pronounced himself pleased with the outcome. I bet.
McKibbon will go ahead next year with his hotel plan, an essentially identical design and size. It will be immediately south of a freeway ramp that passes over parking on the east side of Commerce. The zoning there is UU, with at least a 72-foot height allowance (the aloft design ran 75 to 77 feet, with an additional 12-foot sign on top), but some additional considerations are allowed because this parcel is on the streetcar line. The hotel, as designed, won't require the city waivers needed at the site at Clinton and Commerce.
McKibbon will purchase the new site from Hussman, too. It's part of land the publisher acquired related to his investment in the building that is now the Museum Center on Clinton Avenue, once site of the old Arkansas Democrat's press.
McKibbon is high on Little Rock and the River Market district apparently. He'll reportedly begin development of the hotel in earnest next year. If the hotel alone comes to pass, city officials can breathe a sigh of relief that their surrender to the Stephens/ Robert combine didn't cost the city a $20 million development in a difficult financial climate. If they also get an additional mixed use development, it will be lagniappe.
(LITTLE ROCK, AR – 12/18/08) McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc. of Gainesville, Georgia announced today plans to relocate its planned aloft by Starwood hotel to 3rd and Commerce Streets.
Chief Executive Officer John McKibbon explained, “When we encountered resistance from the Library and others for a seven story, $20 million hotel at Clinton and Commerce, we began to reevaluate our options.” Working with City of Little Rock officials, including Mayor Mark Stodola and Dr. Dean Kumpuris, and developers Jimmy Moses and Rett Tucker of Moses Tucker Real Estate, a new location was identified just outside of the overlay district, where property is not limited to the four story, 48 foot height limit that created opposition from several neighbors. “We can still develop a new, exciting hotel in the River Market District that we believe will not only be successful, but beneficial to all of downtown,” stated McKibbon.
Meanwhile, McKibbon Hotel Group will enter into a joint venture to build a new retail/office complex on Clinton Avenue with Moses Tucker Real Estate. Although plans are preliminary, the Clinton Avenue project would consist of a four story, 80,000 gross square foot building. The first floor would be designed to accommodate up to 15,000 square feet of retail shop space. The second floor is envisioned as a multi-screen cinema and restaurant space. Floors three and four will be planned for office and/or residential use.
The aloft hotel will be the first Starwood brand in the Little Rock area. 130 rooms are planned, along with a contemporary bar and meeting space. Construction will begin on the hotel during the 4th quarter of 2009, with an opening scheduled for spring of 2011. This will be the third property that McKibbon Hotel Group has developed in downtown Little Rock.
About McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc./McKibbon Hotel Management, Inc.
McKibbon Hotel Group, Inc., based in Gainesville, Georgia, is a privately owned enterprise that has grown into a premier real estate developer and owner of nationally franchised hotel brands for Marriott, Hilton and Starwood Hotels. McKibbon is proud to be a recognized leader for over 82 years in the hospitality industry, and McKibbon Hotel Management, Inc., based in Tampa, Florida, currently operates over 60 mid and upscale brands in 8 states throughout the Southeast. The company has a rich history and culture that promotes a family oriented environment, while holding true to its core values of honesty, integrity and loyalty. For more information, visit www.mckibbon.com.