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Like the classic structures of ancient Greece and Rome, the remains of the Hotel Pines in Pine Bluff could tell many a story of a glory that was. And shall be again if entrepreneur Stuart Hee and his partners in Pine Bluff Rising have their way.

Pine Bluff Rising bought the six-story 105,000-square-foot derelict hotel for a total of $1 on Jan. 17, 2017, so useless was this hulk considered. When it opened for the first time, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture: "Since the area north of the tracks was a thriving commercial area, the city's Main Street property owners believed that the presence of a modern hotel would lure business south of the tracks. And so it did for more than a century. And now the dreamers dream once again.

Jan Cottingham, in her excellent story in the July 30 edition of Arkansas Business, quotes Caleb McMahon of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County: "The basic idea of the hotel is as anchor tenant for the redevelopment of the downtown area. It's going to create foot traffic that will then spur growth and shopping areas and things like that."

Only a stone's throw from Union Station, the hotel was designed by renowned architect George R. Mann, who also laid out the state's Capitol. For many a year the hotel was the site of regional high-society events and various civic functions. But when passenger rail service was discontinued in 1968, the hotel's services were dropped too, and it was shut down by 1970.

In the meantime, the hotel made the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, had been bought and sold more than a few times, and at least once faced the imminent prospect of being razed. For like Pine Bluff itself, it's known dramatic ups and downs.

For investor Hee, the resurrection of the old/new hotel could be nothing less than an "exercise in rebuilding a community." A native of Hawaii, he lives in Brooklyn. In the course of his career in operations and finance, he's lived around the world in cities like Hong Kong and London. Mr. Hee spent more than eight years as managing director of investment at Bear Stearns and more than six years at Kalan Capital, a company with investments in fields like shipping, real estate, renewable energy and financial services. He's got a lot of irons in the fire and stays busy tending to all of them.

Mr. Hee was introduced to Pine Bluff by his buddy Tom Reilley, who founded and is now chairman of Highland Pellets, a $229-million manufacturing plant that churns out wood pellets. Messrs. Hee and Reilley have known each other for more than two decades and worked together at Bear Stearns and Kalan. Mr. Hee has some experience in historical renovation but, he hastens to add, "nothing quite like this."

Those who remember the old Hotel Pines will be struck by how the ceramic tile floors have remained in good condition. All the trash that accumulated over them through time served to preserve them. The quarry in Italy has been found and says it will supply any new marble to restore the old. A happy ending isn't here yet, but doggone if it's not in sight.

Mr. Hee estimates the cost of the project at about $35 million; that could increase because of tariffs, weather and other construction market uncertainties. Pine Bluff Rising is seeking tax credits to cut costs, and there's talk of using crowdfunding for those wishing to buy into the hotel for a small investment. That means everybody can have a piece of the pie.

Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Editorial on 08/26/2018

Print Headline: The remains of the day

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