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Growing pains.

Growing Pains

When Bob Haupt's Spa Lodging group purchased the Park Hilton Hotel in June 1989, Haupt went through the comment cards left over from the previous regime.

One card came from a man who estimated he had stayed in hotels more than 100 nights per year for more than 15 years.

"He wrote, |By far, this is the worst hotel I've ever stayed at,'" says Haupt, president of Spa Lodging. "I said, |Where's the roof? I'm going to commit suicide.'"

The hotel, adjacent to the Hot Springs Convention Auditorium on the north end of Malvern Avenue, was opened in the fall of 1986 by a Dallas development group, Hot Springs Hotel Partners.

At the time, the Hilton was hailed as downtown's savior, sure to be a success and provide the push needed to expand the convention center.

Known as the Hot Springs Hilton, it was valued at $14.5 million.

The developers, led by Dallas businessman Patrick H. Fussell, were confident. Fussell estimated the Hilton would pump $26 million per year into the resort city's economy.

He was wrong.

Not only did the Hilton fail to boost the local economy, the owners were forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The 200-room hotel barely had reached 50 percent occupancy by the time the bankruptcy petition was filed.

No guests.

No money.

The Dallas development group defaulted on a $14.5-million loan just two years after the Hilton opened.

To The Rescue

The Bank of America National Trust and Savings Association of San Francisco, which had made the original construction loan, took the hotel back during 1988 foreclosure proceedings.

Haupt's company then came to the rescue.

Six months after Spa Lodging purchased the Park Hilton for about $4 million, the occupancy rate had increased by 30 percent.

A "million little things," Haupt says, turned the hotel into a profitable venture within a year.

An effort was made to respond to each comment card within 24 hours, and management personnel delivered homemade chocolate chip cookies when they made sales calls.

The Park Hilton was sold to Bill Austin of Shawnee, Okla., in April 1990. Michael States of Malvern replaced Haupt as general manager.

States says business has remained steady since Austin purchased the hotel, thanks in part to convention business.

Had voters approved a sales tax increase last week to build a new exhibit hall and renovate Hot Springs Convention Auditorium, the rebirth of the Hilton would have been complete.

Still, the Park Hilton seems to have overcome its early growing pains.

"It was a bank-owned property, and you can smell them a mile away," says Haupt, whose group now has a controlling interest in Jonesboro's Park Inn. "Those hotels look the same and feel the same. The service isn't very good.

"The first time I walked in after we bought it, the clerk greeted us eating french fries out of a McDonald's bag.

"I thought, |What have I gotten myself into?'"
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Title Annotation:foreclosed Park Hilton Hotel under new management
Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 19, 1991
Previous Article:Reconstructing the past.
Next Article:Running off the tracks.

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