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Bringing Boutique Businesses to Downtown Jonesboro
By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Kayla Broadway

Mat Clark and Heather Walker-Clark have long dreamed of opening a boutique hotel in Downtown Jonesboro. With the recent unveiling of INTERSECT311, a one-of-a-kind hotel, and The Glass Factory, an industrial-style event venue, the Clarks added two unique businesses to the growing downtown community.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, from the time I was a little kid,” said Heather. “I didn’t play with toys, I played businesses. I would build them out of boxes with business plans. Mat and I are both built like that.

“When I was in college, I really just thought it would always be fun to have my own bed and breakfast, which evolved over time into a more modern idea, which became a boutique hotel and coffee shop. Then life happened, and all that got put on the back burner, if you will.”

That all changed when she met Mat. They married in June 2014, and Heather says they have similar interests, likes, personalities, goals and dreams. When they began talking about the idea of bringing a boutique hotel to Downtown Jonesboro, the Jonesboro natives were both ready for the challenge and thought that it would be a great fit.

“At the time, I was working for the City of Jonesboro trying to recruit a boutique hotel to come to Downtown Jonesboro, and I couldn’t get anyone to come, or if they were interested, they couldn’t build for two or three years because they were busy building in other cities,” said Heather. “I told Mat that Downtown Jonesboro really needed a boutique hotel, and he said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ That’s how it happened.

“Mat and I were always talking about community development and thought it was something Jonesboro really needed. … So, we started working towards that goal. We were told no by several banks over two to three years, but we did have one bank tell us to build up equity, a portfolio and trust, then come back. We spent five years doing that, and finally we were able to get the loan for the townhomes at two different locations and test that market. That way, when we did go to get a loan for a boutique hotel, we had our own market study and our own market projections. They weren’t projections, they were actual.”

The couple started out with six three-bedroom townhomes on Madison Street, and it didn’t take them long to realize that there was a great demand for what they were offering in the downtown area. Although they hadn’t planned to furnish and lease each of the townhomes all at once, the demand was so great that each unit was leased as soon as it was furnished. Mat and Heather then bought property on Monroe Avenue for an additional five furnished townhomes.

By that time, they were ready to take on their dream of opening a boutique hotel in Downtown Jonesboro. They knew the demand was there, and as downtown residents themselves, they wanted to further develop that aspect of the community by bringing something entirely new to the area.

The Clarks set their sights on a piece of property on Huntington Avenue. They were already in the process of trying to buy the property, and after the city condemned the buildings on the property, the previous owner accepted their offer. But what was originally just going to be INTERSECT311, their boutique apartment and hotel building, soon turned into a larger project when Mat had an idea to turn one of the existing buildings into an event venue.

“When we first got the property, we didn’t know we were going to do an event venue,” said Mat. “We tore down (a building) where the hotel is sitting now, and we were about to tear down what is now the venue. We had the back end torn off a bit, but once we had it cleaned out and could see what was there, I walked towards the light and had a vision. I pulled everyone off the site until I could talk to Heather. I told her my idea, and after about five minutes, she said, ‘OK,’ and we started the process of figuring out how to do a venue. It was by far the hardest project we have done.”

Mat and Heather did much of the work for The Glass Factory themselves, especially the final touches.

“It was hard work,” said Heather. “We tiled and grouted. We did all the cosmetic stuff upstairs, my dad and I did the subfloors, and we both painted a lot. On Christmas 2018, we were up there all day putting polyurethane on the floors.”

The hard work paid off. The Glass Factory opened on Jan. 11, 2019, and has been busy ever since. The 6,500-square-foot industrial-themed event space can accommodate 400 guests indoors and up to 300 guests outside for a wedding ceremony. The upstairs features a 600-square-foot bridal suite with a bathroom, changing room, vanity seating and a lounge area, while the catering kitchen and two main bathrooms are located downstairs. The venue offers a variety of tables, chairs and linens with its event packages, and guests will also be able to utilize a total audio/visual system that is user-friendly and includes a 120-inch screen for slideshows, presentations and more.

“We have had banquets, an Earth Day celebration, anniversary parties, speaking engagements, award ceremonies, weddings, receptions, conferences, art classes, fundraisers, grand openings, birthday parties, parades, photo shoots, commercial shoots, yoga videos, sorority events and a prom,” said Heather. “A-State had the Paint the Town Red Pep Rally here. We can hold pretty much anything; we’ve probably done it all at this point. Anything we can accommodate, we will.

“We had more than 500 people at our grand opening for The Glass Factory last summer, which is huge; it was incredible. A-State, St. Bernards, NEA Baptist, NYIT, Downtown Jonesboro Alliance, the chamber, local nonprofits, banks and so many others have all hosted events here. We have held hundreds of events, including 40 to 50 weddings so far. All our weekends in 2020 are booked. As soon as COVID-19 allows for it, we’ll be back in business.”

Although she loves how well the two complement each other now, Heather says she was a bit more hesitant about the event venue because her true dream was INTERSECT311.

“We got distracted by the event venue,” she said. “I loved the building, but I thought it would distract us from the goal of the hotel. … It did prolong our loan for the hotel, but I think it turned out to be better with The Glass Factory being there. It turned into an organic and natural supply chain. People who come to a wedding want to stay next door. It’s almost like we built the venue to supply our own hotel with guests. It expedited the whole marketing aspect. Mat was right. I love The Glass Factory, I love the building and I love the business, but I love the hotel more.”

The couple’s boutique hotel opened in April 2019 with the incorporation of the townhomes. The newest component of the hotel, located at 315 W. Huntington Ave., officially opened on Dec. 31, 2019. The hotel has already been met with rave reviews.

 INTERSECT311 features 25 boutique suites that are available to be booked nightly. Fifteen of those rooms are one-bedroom and studio suites located next door to The Glass Factory; the couple’s previous townhomes, five two-bedroom suites at Monroe Place and five three-bedroom suites at Madison Place, are also part of INTERSECT311. All suites are fully furnished with king or queen size beds, a full kitchen or kitchenette, a seating area and a full private bathroom with each bedroom. All units are pet-friendly, and most include a laundry closet or stackable washer/dryer in the room. There is 24-hour self-check-in and free Wi-Fi.

Mat describes a boutique hotel as different and stylish with unique décor, and INTERSECT311 is no exception.

“If you’ve seen one (chain hotel), you’ve seen them all,” said Heather. “With a boutique hotel, that’s not the case. It’s unique to that local community. It doesn’t have the feel of corporate. The customer service is personal and intimate. It’s also more risk for a funder, financially, because you don’t have the support of a flag hotel, but there’s also advantages to that as an owner – there is flexibility in the decisions you make and how you treat your customers and the policies you make. We make the right decision, and we build our policies around that. It’s more of a bottom up experience. … We could not have built a flag hotel, but that’s not what we wanted for our downtown. We didn’t want a chain, we wanted something unique to Downtown Jonesboro.”

Contributing to the Downtown Jonesboro area is something the Clarks are passionate about. They live, work and play downtown, so community development is a priority.

“If Mat and I are going to live in a community, we want to do everything we can to make that community better,” said Heather. “… I think Downtown Jonesboro is geographically uniquely positioned for two reasons. Number one, it’s really the only urban-esque place between St. Louis, Memphis and Little Rock; everything in the middle of that is more rural. Jonesboro is the most urban place inside that triangle, and people come here because they feel safer in Jonesboro than they do in those three cities. Downtown Jonesboro is uniquely positioned for success.

“Secondly, one of my passions is social justice reform and equal rights. I think built environment contributes to a lot of social justice issues, and I think Downtown Jonesboro is uniquely positioned between areas of haves and have nots. I wanted to take an area like that that was blighted and make it beautiful, and yet also make it affordable for all people. It becomes a bridge for two different socioeconomic areas. It’s a way to connect people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses. To have a role in that is important to me. … The heartbeat of a downtown dictates the success of every city. To contribute to that is fun.”

Mat and Heather are thankful for the community support they’ve received since opening. Many local businesses and organizations have been helpful in marketing and promoting, and many have utilized both the hotel and the event venue.

“Without our clients and hotel guests, we would not be able to do what we do,” said Heather. “God is the one who told us to buy 311 West Huntington, and that started it all. We are just thankful. I’m thankful I get to live this life I get to live.

“I would like to add a special thank you to Lindsey Bowman, Owner of POLISH Marketing, for her huge role in our success. She has been instrumental in our success, and we would not be where we are without her.”

“There are so many people in Jonesboro who don’t know (INTERSECT311 and The Glass Factory) are even here yet,” added Mat. “It’s open to everybody. We built it for everybody to enjoy. It something new and fun and different. And we have a couple more things in the works in the next six to 12 months that will bring more to the area; fun stuff is coming.”

For more information about INTERSECT311, located at 315 West Huntington Ave., call (870) 878-3100 or visit intersect311.com. For more information about The Glass Factory, located at 313 West Huntington Ave, call (870) 819-4131 or visit glassfactory311.com.