Gov. Mike Beebe and other dignitaries on Friday officially opened The Chancellor Hotel, and formally completing the more than $16 million renovation of the hotel on the Fayetteville Square.
Among those who helped the Governor cut the ceremonial ribbon were Sam Alley, CEO of VCC Construction, Ike Thrash of Dawn Properties, Panamanian President Richardo Martinelli, Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart. (Link here for The City Wire story on the Thursday night preview party at The Chancellor.)
“This becomes a showplace to a lot of visitors. It is a quality hotel that puts Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas’ best foot forward,” said Beebe, “It employs up to 200 full-time employees not counting construction.”
The Governor is seeing a lot of construction in Fayetteville not only around the UA campus but just off-campus at the newly-renovated Fayetteville High School. The Governor was on-site for that unveiling as well later Friday.
“What’s going on at Fayetteville High School is pretty special,” he said, “Anytime you see construction it means jobs and it uplifts.”
Beebe said construction sites should be a sign of progress and it means people are working which wasn’t the case for many during the recession.
“Fayetteville suffered during the recession because they had been booming so much. There was overbuilt housing and commercial business,” Beebe noted.
In renovating the hotel, Beebe credited business leaders who knew Fayetteville could bounce back and they invested money and took the risk. He said the area has a history of taking risk, and said such choices helped turn the area from sleepy into bustling.
When it comes to The Chancellor, two of those risk takers are Sam Alley and Ike Thrash. Alley is a UA grad in civil engineering. Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce President Steve Clark said these men aren’t only businessmen, they are angels.
“We had many people look at this hotel and said it is a blight and underserved and its days of glory and achievement were behind it,” Clark continued, “They saw this hotel as the future and as an investment for the city and a place you can come home to.”
Sam’s wife, Janet is credited with not only naming the new property but decorating it as well.
The Alleys are no stranger to developing in the area. They are responsible for many projects on campus including renovating the athletic facility. The Alleys are long-time benefactors of the UA.
Before they became involved, Gearhart said the university nearly bought the property and turned it into student housing.
“That was two years ago, “he said, “I think our price was $4 million.”
Gearhart said he wished the hotel was open last week because he needed a place to hide-out after the devastating football loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Joking aside, he remarked that the hotel is a significant impact for Fayetteville and the university.
“Our global campus is right next door. This hotel is very important to what we are trying to do,” Gearhart said.
Among many of the things the UA is trying to do is extend its population with international students. An international alum was on-hand for the opening, Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. He originally came to Fayetteville to study agriculture but soon changed to business. He received his degree in business administration.
President Martinelli has established a scholarship to provide financial aid to prospective students from Panama. Right now, 68 students are enrolled in the UA with another 40 on-tap to study for their graduate degrees.
Last week, city officials and those from the World Trade Center in Rogers went on a trade mission to Panama to recruit company leaders to consider Fayetteville for future business.
“When I took office (in 2009) people said no one wants to come to Fayetteville and I didn’t believe that. That’s been about 300 businesses ago,” said Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan.
He said he celebrates The Chancellor Hotel because it will no longer stand empty.
“It is alive and it is more beautiful than it has been before,” he continued, “People told me we couldn’t get a full-service hotel and we got it done in a year.”
Mayor Jordan said it is a treasure to the city and he’s sure the Hog call will haunt the halls soon.