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$7 million project turns UA's Carnall Hall into Inn.

THE $7.1 MILLION PROJECT to convert the second-oldest building on the University of Arkansas campus into The Inn at Carnall Hall should begin this spring, said Rob MerryShip, one of the project developers.

He said the deal should be signed with the UA by early March. Construction is expected to take two years to complete.

But James Lambeth, another one of the partners in Carnall Inn Development Co. LLC, said a $1 million grant from the Arkansas Natural and Gultural Resources Council could be in jeopardy if work doesn't begin soon.

"In a month, it's going to be too late," he said. "In a month, we're going to lose a $1 million grant."

Lambeth said that first grant from the ANCRC must be spent by June.

"They have literally been dragging their feet for three months," Lambeth said of the UA.

David Martinson, the UA's associate vice chancellor for finance and administration, said he hopes to have the contract signed as soon as possible so work can begin and the grant can come through as planned.

"We want that project to happen," Martinson said. "We're working diligently to get an agreement together that everyone is satisfied with."

Lambeth also is concerned about a $1.5 million contingency fund that the UA is requiring to cover any unexpected damage that could occur during construction. Lambeth said such funds usually amount to no more than $300,000.

"As a public entity, we've got to be a little conservative on those," Martinson said of the contingency fund.

Martinson said he ordered the removal of asbestos from the building, and that work should be completed by the end of February if it hasn't already been done.

Although he's not used to doing business with a public entity like the UA, Lambeth is an architect who has taught at the university for 20 years. He is also owner of Inn at the Mill in Johnson.

Other partners in Carnall Development Co. are Richard Alexander, Ted and Leslie Belden and Miles James. James is owner and chef of James at the Mill, the restaurant in Lambeth's Inn at the Mill. James is also Lambeth's son-in-law.

Lambeth and James plan to operate a similar upscale restaurant in Carnall Hall. It will be called Ella's Restaurant after Ella Carnall, for whom the building is named. The inn will also include a bar called The Faculty Lounge.

Alexander has partnered with MerryShip on several other historical renovation projects in Fayetteville. The two currently are working on the renovation of the U-Ark Bowl building on Dickson Street. They also renovated the Ozark Theater building on College Avenue.

Carnall Development Co. came in with a bid that was barely half the $13 million it was projected to cost to convert the UA building to a full-fledged hotel. The UA tried to solicit hotel builders to do that in 1999, but none came forward with a proposal. Turning the building into a historic inn will be considerably less expensive because, for one reason, it doesn't require adding rooms. The current drawings call for 49 rooms at The Inn at Carnall Hall.

The 480,000-SF Carnall Hall has been empty for a decade. Paula Marinoni, a local activist and former candidate for mayor of Fayetteville, was instrumental in the campaign to save Carnall Hall.

The UA is putting up $2.4 million toward the construction. Two grants from the ANCRC will provide another $2 million for the project, and a $100,000 grant is available from an economic development group. The developers are investing $2.6 million in Carnall Hall.

The developers will have a 41-year lease on the property, which still will be owned by the UA. (The length of the lease will allow developers to get tax breaks to renovate a historic building.) The university will get half the profits from the inn and restaurant and will be able to use the facility and staff to teach classes on hospitality through its School of Human and Environmental Sciences (formerly the Department of Home Economics).

Built in 1905, Carnall Hall was the first women's dormitory at the UA. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
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Title Annotation:University of Arkansas
Comment:$7 million project turns UA's Carnall Hall into Inn.(University of Arkansas)
Author:Bowden, Bill
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Feb 18, 2002
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