LR Convention And Visitors Bureau CEO Says Statehouse Expansion, Sports Complex Needed

Gretchen Hall in a file photo from May, 2015, standing in front of the Robinson Center Music Hall.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Gretchen Hall, CEO of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau, likes the numbers she sees.

Last year, Pulaski County accounted for 13,000 travel-related jobs and 6.1 million visitors who spent nearly $1.8 billion in travel expenditures. That translates into more than $31 million in travel-related local taxes and $69 million in travel-related state taxes.

Why is the capital city so attractive for visitors?

“Our location,” says Hall, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. “We’re pretty easy to get to. We’re less congested. We have a lot of variety as far as our amenities go. We’re conveniently located within the country… and I think people are staying a little closer to home. It’s an economical option for people to have a short vacation here in Little Rock.”

Recently, PBS’ award-winning travel expert Darley Newman was in town to tape an episode of “Travels with Darley,” a program that highlights unique vacation getaways. Newman put together a “16 in 48” packagethat singles out 16 things to do in Little Rock in 48 hours. The list includes bike tours, Sims BBQ, the River Lights, and several local breweries.

In November 2016, the LRCVB will re-open the historic Robinson Center Auditorium, which is undergoing a $70 million renovation. The new music hall and convention space will feature a state-of-the-art performance hall and a conference center overlooking the Arkansas River. It will also offer one of the largest meeting spaces outdoors in Arkansas. Already, national conventions such as the Sweet Adelines have already booked the space. So has the Governor’s conference on tourism and the traveling Broadway series will return to Robinson with Phantom of the Opera.

While that’s music to Hall’s ears, she says it’s already time to plan for the next growth phase.

“I think infrastructure is going to be key for our growth in the future,” Hall said.

Although nice-sized hotels have sprouted throughout downtown Little Rock, they are all in the 100-125 room range. Hall contends that more convention and travel business will grow in central Arkansas if locals continue to invest in the right facilities.

“We are seeing the utilization of the Statehouse Convention Center continue to grow year-after-year. So in the very near future, we’re going to need to talk about expanding that convention center. With that also needs to come an expansion of the hotel rooms adjacent and connected to it,” she says.

“In addition, we’re looking at the need for an indoor, multi-sport sports facility. We did a research study for that and a feasibility study last year and rolled that out. We’re still looking for funding opportunities, but I think there’s huge potential for increased business there if we can build the right sports facility for youth sports.”