The aloft Hotel battle | Arkansas Blog

Monday, November 3, 2008

The aloft Hotel battle

Posted By on Mon, Nov 3, 2008 at 1:34 PM

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COMMERCE ST. VIEW: Library's Cox Center at left.

At this link, you'll find the full application pending before the Little Rock Planning Commission to support a proposed $20 million, seven-story Aloft Hotel at Clinton and Commerce across from the River Market.

I wrote about this in a column last week. The behind-the-scenes politics continue. It would appear, at this moment, that the arrival of the Stephens financial empire as a major opponent to the project could spell its doom, either at the Planning Commission next week or on an appeal to the City Board.

The Stephens, as I've written, object to new competition to their nearby Capital Hotel. (Like most avowed free market advocates, they prefer a market with a minimum of competition.) Central Arkansas Library Director Bobby Roberts was leading the opposition until Stephens came along. He fears impact on his institution's buildings and also has eyed the land for library use. But he seemed inclined to a design compromise with the Aloft developers until the 800-pound gorillas from Stephens came along.

The city planning staff will recommend approval of the hotel. Some planning commissioners will not be present for the vote, making it harder to round up six votes for the project. The application is worth a look. It illustrates that the hotel doesn't exactly dwarf neighboring buildings (some are taller). But the River Market Design District's height limitation made that the handiest way to oppose the project.

Defenders of the project also will argue that the hotel could build now within the height limitation with a block structure, but have opted for a more neighborhood-sensitive, if taller, L-shaped design.

Will clout win out? Should it? Times publisher Alan Leveritt goes nearly apoplectic at the idea that self-interested politics could stop a huge development in a struggling city. Particularly in the midst of a strained financial market where few new projects are getting the greenlight.

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