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Creating Opportunities for Tourism on the A-State Campus
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Kayla Broadway

There is no question that Jonesboro is growing and thriving, and with it, Arkansas State University and its athletics program. With that growth and support comes a need for additional hotels and event venues, such as the highly anticipated addition of the Embassy Suites by Hilton and Red Wolf Convention Center on A-State’s campus, which will soon open its doors to a community that has already lined up to use it.

The project officially broke ground in May 2018, and after a lengthy construction process and dealing with months of rain delays, it is slated to open to the public on Nov. 1 before an official grand opening on Jan. 16, 2020. Houlihan’s Restaurant, which will be located in the hotel, is set to open on Nov. 5.

“The wet weather has delayed us 120 days, as we had hoped to open in July 2019,” said Kraig Pomrenke, Embassy Suites by Hilton – Jonesboro Arkansas State general manager. “Clark Construction has done an amazing job of juggling the schedule to work around the heavy rains we have had in Northeast Arkansas. Once they were able to get the building in the dry, the weather really was not a factor. We have been working on securing groups, conferences, social events and other business for the last year.”

The Arkansas State University System has partnered with O’Reilly Hospitality Management of Springfield, Mo., which is providing the financial investment. The facility was designed by Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc. architects, also of Springfield, and the general contractor is Clark Contractors of Little Rock.

A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said in a press release that together, those entities are creating a facility that will make the entire region stronger. He also commended the Jonesboro Advertising and Promotion Commission, which approved financial incentives to make the project feasible for the long-term benefit of the area.

“No question, it is a game changer,” said Pomrenke of the on-campus hotel and convention center. “The addition of a convention center space and more hotel rooms allows Northeast Arkansas the option to host large events that it previously could not have hosted. An average state association conference is 250-350 people and requires significant space for general sessions, breakouts rooms and food and beverage space. Until now, that was not possible in Jonesboro and NEA all in one location.

“With our strategic location on the A-State campus, we are now able to not only bid and host these types of conferences, but being adjacent to the First National Bank Arena, Centennial Bank Stadium and Fowler Center, we can collaborate with those facilities to assist with events and conferences to provide more space and options. As an example, we have secured a conference in February 2020, and that conference is using space at the Fowler Center along with the hotel and other spaces on campus. That could not have happened without our location, relationships and commitments from Arkansas State. We are very happy with the university and continue to see great things.”
The hotel’s general manager says they have booked events as far out as 2024, so the space is already in high demand.

“We anticipate the hotel to be open to having overnight guests on November 1,” said Pomrenke, who is a 37-year veteran of the hospitality industry and specializes in event management, catering operations and sales. “Up until we open the doors on that date, we are working on finishing all the exterior and interior work, which includes construction, landscaping, parking lots, finishes, placement of furniture, fixtures and equipment. Room installations and final cleaning will start in late September, and we will spend the last two weeks doing a lot of staff training and final touches. Of course, we are starting to hire all positions now. We have a job fair scheduled September 10 and 11 and again September 25 and 26 at Centennial Bank Stadium.”

The full-service hotel will feature 203 suites, including four hospitality suites, and the attached convention center will offer more than 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space at the Red Wolf Convention Center. The 15,000-square-foot Arvest Ballroom seats up to 1,200 people, while smaller rooms are available to suit other needs, whether it be for an executive meeting, a wedding, a charitable event or a large conference. Additionally, the 4,000-square-foot Delta Ballroom features floor-to-ceiling windows and an outdoor patio space, allowing events to spill over outside. The full-service catering kitchen, located just outside the Arvest Ballroom, will be able to accommodate more than 2,000 people.

In addition to hiring several students to work at the hotel and in the restaurant, Pomrenke says the hotel will work closely with A-State to allow for hands-on experience.

“The hotel has been designed to be a living laboratory for the emerging hospitality program at Arkansas State,” he said. “We have already been working closely with the College of Business to help add programming and actual classes to be held at the hotel and convention center. In addition, we have employed interns since February and will continue to support the intern program each semester. Planning continues to progress for adding more experiences for the hospitality students in rooms, sales and food and beverage operations.

“… Jonesboro has been ready for a hotel of this caliber, and we feel it will be well-received. … Experiences matter, and we strive to provide a great, positive and memorable experience for each guest at every opportunity.”

For more information about Embassy Suites by Hilton and the Red Wolf Convention Center, located at 223 Red Wolf Blvd., call (870) 619-4482.