LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Downtown Little Rock is losing its ducks, but it's gaining some international recognition with the changeover of the Peabody hotel to a full-service Marriott.
The Peabody, modeled after its namesake in Memphis, Tenn., has featured ducks swimming in a fountain and enjoyed a popular resonance in the region since it took over the city-owned property in 2002.
Now that the hotel and convention center is becoming a Marriott, the city hopes to see growth in visitor numbers because of the chain's worldwide name recognition and promotions on a scale that the Peabody couldn't match.
Downtown has already seen visitor numbers grow with the Clinton Presidential Center and the River Market District as key attractions. Just blocks to the west, the Marriott will be among the anchors in a hotel corridor that also features a DoubleTree and the historic Capital Hotel.
Davidson Hotels and Resorts of Atlanta will manage the Marriott, which will have a Wednesday ceremony to mark the new name. Wednesday will also be the first day without ducks since the Peabody opened.
Fairwood Capital LLC of Memphis bought the lease from the Peabody Hotel Group and plans a $16 million renovation.
The hotel has its own meeting spaces and is connected to the 220,000-square-foot Statehouse Convention Center, which is run by the Little Rock Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Gretchen Hall, director of the bureau, said having Marriott promote the hotel and work to attract conventions will improve the city's business climate.
"The Peabody and the Peabody Hotel Group have been tremendous partners," Hall said. "They came in and took over a facility that was in desperate need of renovation and upgrades. They put a substantial amount of money into the property."
Marriott will pay considerably less rent than the Peabody. The city is giving it a break on the rent in light of the money that's to be spent on renovations.
The Peabody paid rent of $375,000 per year, while the Marriott will pay $85,000 in its first year, with the payments gradually rising to $150,000 in 2019, a sum that will remain for the duration of the lease, according to the agreement with the city. Marriott has a 40-year lease.
The hotel holds a dubious place in history as the site where then-Gov. Bill Clinton allegedly sexually harassed Paula Jones, whose lawsuit when Clinton was president led to revelations about Monica Lewinsky.
The hotel drew four-star ratings in recent years and will become the first full-service Marriott in Arkansas, though there is already a downtown Courtyard by Marriott.
Bruce Skidmore, director of sales and marketing for the Marriott, said the staff has made a number of changes already, putting in place new linens, high-definition televisions, telephones and other items. Room renovations will begin in early 2014, and exterior work will be done through the end of the year.
The restaurants will be rebranded and renovated and the lobby and lounge area will get new touches.
Hall provided a long list of attributes the Marriott will bring, such as its large customer loyalty program, a national sales team that will recruit meetings and conventions, and a national reservation system, none of which the Peabody offered on such a scale.
"I don't know that there are a lot of cons," she said.
As crews outside used heavy equipment to hoist the new Marriott signs Tuesday afternoon, Peabody guests Fred and Margaret Griesbach of Plover, Wis., found one reason to lament the change.
"It's sad to see the ducks go," Fred Griesbach said. "It's part of the history of it."
They took pictures of the ducks in their fountain, enjoying a last splash.
The hotel will move the birds to a farm in Scott, where it keeps its retired ducks.