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Whitten Hospitality Opens 83-room Best Western
Fort Smith Inn & Suites, Fort Smith, Arkansas

By Ben Boulden, Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 18, 2010--Best Western Fort Smith Inn & Suites is slated to open Friday for guests.

The four-story, 83-room hotel has been under construction for about 11 months at its 6500 Rogers Ave. location.

"We've been sitting there for seven weeks trying to get the parking lot paved," said developer Tim Whitten.

Rain and wintry weather has delayed greatly the laying of asphalt for the lot.

Part of a retaining wall at the rear of the property collapsed last summer and had to be rebuilt, too, which also slowed things down, he said.

Lisa Whitten, vice president of Russellville-based Whitten Hospitality, said the inn's 83 rooms include 21 large suites. Each room has microwave ovens and refrigerators as well as 32-inch LCD televisions with high-definition cable.

High-speed wireless Internet connections will be available to guests throughout the hotel, she said.

Other amenities include a heated, outdoor swimming pool, an exercise room, a conference room and guest laundry.

The Fort Smith Inn also will offer a shuttle service to guests for travel to and from the Fort Smith Regional Airport and the Choctaw Casino in Pocola.

Lisa Whitten said an outside basketball court will be built in the summer.

Whitten Hospitality has two other Best Western lodging properties under construction in Maumelle and Russellville.

She said the company typically has built hotels for sale or operated them only until a buyer was found, but it intends to hold on to the Fort Smith Inn & Suites for long-term operation.

However, it has an adjacent two acres to the east of the hotel that is for sale. Whitten Hospitality hopes to attract a restaurant to it.

Restaurant neighbor or not, the Fort Smith Inn will offer a hot breakfast to its guests that includes breakfast burritos, ham-and-cheese croissants, bagels, bread and biscuits with gravy.

A "Manager's Reception" also will take place each week night, said Lisa Whitten.

Although the project was begun in the middle of one of the nation's worst economic recessions in decades, the downturn didn't give developers pause.

"While the hospitality industry has fallen a bit, it is strong," she said. "Overall, it has fallen 10 to 15 percent, but nationally it has fallen 20 to 25 percent. Arkansas is holding."

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he doesn't foresee any other hotel or motel openings in Fort Smith this year. The market has averaged about one new property per year for the last few years, including Homewood Suites and Candlewood Suites hotels on Phoenix Avenue in 2009.

"The Best Western will help fill a need," he said. "I don't think it'll have a negative impact on occupancy and revenue in the city overall or at a particular property. You always have to be careful not to overbuild. I don't see any other properties on the horizon in the short term, so we should be able to absorb this inventory."

Larger markets have experienced sharper peaks and valleys in revenue and occupancy than Fort Smith's, which Legris said tends to perform at a more measured pace. That's why the falloff here hasn't been as sharp as in other markets.

Whitten Hospitality expects to employ about 20 people in full-time and part-time positions at the hotel, which in late 2008 had an estimated construction cost of $5.5 million.


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