Arkansas jailhouse set for boutique hotel conversion

George Sell By George Sell
11 November 2018 | Updated 11 November 2018

US: The former Columbia County jailhouse in Magnolia, Arkansas, is to become a 10-room boutique hotel.

Complete with gargoyles and steel-plated doors, the 108-year-old structure, will be transformed in to a hotel called La Bella Vita of Magnolia.

Gina Blann, the new owner of property, along with her cousin, Pam Goodman are developing the project. Blann purchased the building from its former Canadian owner, Lisa McNally, who, according to Columbia County Real Estate records, acquired the property in 2014 for $22,000. The former owner removed the antique copper and tin ceilings in the now-gutted structure.

The pair hope to keep the jail's unique charm, but bolster it with Italian villa style décor and extensive refurbishing of the interior and exterior of the building, as well as its lawn and grounds.

"I like beautiful landscapes," said Blann. "We will remove most of the fencing, but we could leave a little portion in the back because we will be a pet-friendly hotel."

The first floor will feature a lobby and possibly three rooms, while an elevator will be installed to take guests upstairs to at least seven additional rooms. The bulk of the outside landscaping is planned for the Calhoun lawn to highlight a Magnolia tree that already exists there.

Foundational renovations are not expected. The former jail, with its massive concrete reinforced walls and virtually no wood or perishable framing, has sat unused for nearly 20 years. "They said you couldn't blow this place up with an atomic bomb," said Blann, who added she hopes to be open within 18 months.

The original architect's great-grandson is the architect on the new project. Charles Thompson of Little Rock designed the building in the early 20th Century, and his descendant, Ed Levy, along with Aaron Scott of Little Rock firm AIA, are heading its revitalisation.

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