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Benton Advertising and Promotion Commission has selected Fairfield Inn & Suites as the hotel chain to anchor the development of the events center being built in Hickory Square Shopping Center.
The chain, a Marriott brand, unanimously was approved by members of the commission.
Commission chairman Mark Fikes said three different hotel chains had expressed interest in locating in Benton and each had initiated the paperwork required by the commission for consideration in the project.
"Each group has the financial wherewithal to participate, but the Marriott brand was about three months ahead of the others in completing the deal," Fikes said.
Additionally, Fikes noted that the chain had "gone through hurdles" and had filed $50,000 for its business license. Members of the Marriott team have visited the site in Hickory Square and have obtained approval from Marriott throughout the corporate financial levels, but still need support from the operations staff. Benton Community Development Director Lamont Cromwell said the operations approval will be given soon.
Fikes concurred by stating the hotel chain was certain enough of its participation that announcing the choice was "comfortable for them."
Umang Patel of Conway is the businessman involved with the Fairfield hotel for the events center. Patel owns and manages the following properties: Candlewood Suites, Comfort Inn & Suites, Comfort Suites - Little Rock, and Holiday Inn Express & Suites.
Patel noted in an email that "our newest property, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, is consistently #1 out of its direct competitors in ADR, Occupancy, and RevPAR. Our next newest property, Comfort Suites in Little Rock, has won the Choice Hotels Rookie of the Year Award and the Platinum Award. It is ranked in the top 10 of all Comfort Suites in the nation. Another point to note is that we have been in the hospitality business in Central Arkansas for 30 years."
Two other prominent hotel brands, Hilton Garden Inn group and Wyndham Hotel group, also were under consideration.
In November 2011, 72 percent of Benton voters voted to build the events center. The A&P Commission put forth plans to include a major hotel chain in the development to anchor the center and provide potential accommodations for groups interested in booking the center.
A ceremonial groundbreaking was held for the events center on July 3 of this year. Actual construction on the building will begin following final approval of design elements of the center and completed negotiations with the Ashely Group, owners of Hickory Square Shopping Center.
The local architectural firm of Black, Corley, Owens and Hughes is designing the project, which is being managed by CDI Construction in Little Rock. Construction is expected to begin within the next few weeks.
In other business, Jasen Kelley, representing GoBenton, presented the final request for proposals document regarding potential naming rights for the center. The commission reviewed the final guidelines and approved a committee to follow through with the proposal. A&P Commissioner Luke Moody was selected to head the effort.
In addition to Fikes and Moody, serving on the commission are Benton Aldermen Steve Lee and Kerry Murphy, Tom Baxley, Naresh Patel and Jeff Stechman.
**Printed earlier today in the Saline Courier. A selection of our local stories is posted online, but for complete news coverage, subscribe to our print edition today!