Hotels, attractions debuting across Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK -- Expansion of Arkansas' tourism operation is in progress.

In the northwest, Eureka Springs now has the Ozarks Convention Center back in operation, with 4,000 additional square feet of function space.

The center, part of the 122-unit Best Western Inn of the Ozarks, was leveled by fire in February 2001. Reconstruction began in July, and it reopened Feb. 28.

The $3 million replacement convention center has 28,000 square feet, with 11 meeting and banquet rooms and a terraced reception area.

The center also has wheelchair ramps and a lift for travelers with disabilities, making it compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to Terry Cook, the hotel's sales and marketing director.

The guest mix at the inn is 55% meetings, 20% tour groups and 25% leisure travelers.

Group rates are extended when 10 or more rooms are paid, Cook said, noting that the inn does business with 75 different tour operators, including Dallas-based Dan Dipert Tours, which visits Eureka Springs as a stand-alone destination.

Some firms also combine the city -- noted for its "Great Passion Play," produced from April through October, and 19th century Victorian architecture -- with Branson, Mo., about an hour's drive away.

The inn extends its best rates from Nov. 1 through Feb. 28. The peak period is May through October. For information, call (501) 253-9768.

Also in northwest Arkansas, the AmeriSuites opened a 104-unit property in Rogers with meetings space for up to 100. It is managed by Houston-based Vista Host. For information, call (501) 633-8555.

Meanwhile, in Hot Springs, John Q. Hammons Hotels of Springfield, Mo., will break ground in June on a 252-room Embassy Suites, adjacent to the Hot Springs Convention Center.

The convention center will be expanded to 360,000 square feet by 2003 and will include a 120,000-square-foot sports and entertainment arena with 6,000 seats.

For business travelers, each of the Embassy Suites' units will have a data port, voice mail and Web TV access.

When the $35 million hotel opens in August 2003, it will provide a cooked-to-order breakfast at no extra charge, a sports bar restaurant and a lounge.

Also just open south of Hot Springs is Garvan Woodland Gardens, a 210-acre botanical garden with 4.5 miles fronting Lake Hamilton.

The University of Arkansas-owned attraction courts motorcoach tour business, extending discounts for 20 or more, with optional box lunches and catering.

A 5,000-square-foot welcome center contains a gift shop, orientation space and a meeting room.

Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for those 55 and older and $3 for children ages 6 to 12. For information, call (800) 366-4664 or visit online at www.garvangardens.org.

Meanwhile, in Little Rock, construction began on the 28-acre, $200 million William J. Clinton Presidential Center near the River Market District downtown.

Overlooking the Arkansas River, the center will be part of an urban park and will contain a library, a museum, an archive of Clinton's papers and artifacts and a graduate school. It is scheduled to open some time in 2004.

Also planned for an adjacent site and opening in 2005 is the Heifer International Global Village, which will feature exhibits on foreign lands.

Meanwhile, the 418-room Excelsior Hotel next to the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock became the Peabody Little Rock Jan. 31 after a $40 million renovation.

The Peabody Duck March is performed there as it is in Memphis and Orlando. For information on the property, call (800) 842-DUCKS.

Little Rock Getaway packages are offered by several hotels. Information can be found on the Web at www.littlerock.com.

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