University of Arkansas eyes on-campus hotel near Walton College

An empty lot on the University of Arkansas campus between the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development and the Harmon Avenue Parking Garage could one day be home to a 150-room, on-campus hotel and conference center.

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The University of Arkansas is looking for a partner to build a hotel and conference center near the heart of campus, UA officials confirmed Wednesday.

The university last year commissioned a market demand study for a potential on-campus hotel and conference center to expand executive education functions and to provide a needed venue for university-sponsored workshops and conferences that require overnight housing, food service, and meeting space.

In the study, Pennsylvania-based PFK Consulting recommended building a 125- to 150-room hotel with a 13,600-square-foot conference center on an empty lot between the Donald W. Reynolds Center for Enterprise Development and the Harmon Avenue Parking Garage.

UA officials in March issued a request for qualifications seeking a private developer/operator to build the hotel, which will primarily serve executive education functions, conferences, workshops, and meetings of university-affiliated organizations.

David Davies, university assistant vice provost for finance & administration who is chairing a committee overseeing exploration of the project, said that if there are enough respondents to the RFQ, a more specific request for proposals would follow.

“Questions we’d be asking are, ‘What do you have in mind? Where will you get the funding? What kind of rates would you offer? To what standard would you build it? Would you recommend it be branded?'” he said. “Those are the things the university would be looking at, and of course, the track record of the operator.”

The hotel and conference center is estimated to cost between $25-30 million depending on the size. If the full 150 rooms are built, it would become the second-largest hotel in Fayetteville behind the 197-room Guest House Inn & Suites.

Davies said the primary use of the hotel would be to serve executive education purposes, but that it would be open to the public to ensure the best possible rates.

“A lot of universities use an on-campus hotel and conference center to grow their college of business through executive education,” he said. “That’s something that this university thinks it should be doing as well.”

He said he conference center could be utilized by other departments within the university. “The engineering department, for example, could offer workshops if there was a place to do it that included overnight housing for out-of-town guests,” said Davies.

The deadline for the RFQ was originally set for April 2, but UA officials plan to re-issue the request this week to allow for more responses.

Davies estimated that the hotel could be complete between 18-22 months from the time the proposal process is complete and a developer/operator is selected.