The Cenla-ian of the Year award is reserved for the Cenla resident who exemplifies noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts. Jenkins, an Alexandria businessman, says the honor could not have come at a better time. During the last eight months, Jenkins notes, he has been the recipient of some “rather bad news,” but being selected as the Cenla-ian of the Year was news he did not mind hearing. “This was good news. It really perked me up, and I consider it a tremendous honor,” Jenkins says about the recognition. “It came as a complete shock to me.”
Last October, Jenkins was told by his cardiologist that he would need surgery. Test results from a stress test showed blockage that would require a coronary bypass. That same month, Jenkins underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. In February, while still recovering from the surgery, Jenkins received word that a broken pipe had flooded the Hotel Bentley downstairs. Jenkins had purchased the historic hotel, which was built in 1908, in October 2012 for $3.4 million. After being shuttered for years, Jenkins had been in the process of renovating the Bentley. “The downstairs was completely finished. You could have had a party in there. Then I hear about the broken water pipe. In some places, the water was 26-inches deep,” Jenkins says, adding that about a half of a million dollars was spent on completely restoring the hotel’s elevators alone. “It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The elevators were ruined,” notes Jenkins.
Hopes of a grand opening of the Hotel Bentley this spring were dashed by the flooding of the ground floor, essentially “shutting down” that plan. Jenkins says it originally took eight weeks to repair the elevators, and it may take a few more months to restore them to the proper working order. With dogged determination, Jenkins says he is staying focused on the repair and renovations of the Bentley. The re-opening of the hotel, located at 200 Desoto St., is considered crucial in the revitalization of downtown Alexandria. “The Bentley is the heart of the city. Everything else will revolve around it, once it opens,” he assures.
Jenkins thinks the Hotel Bentley will kick start the revitalization and attract businesses to the downtown area of Alexandria. “The area along the Red River is untouched. No one is capitalizing on that,” Jenkins says, adding there has been “a lot of interest” in the residential condominiums under construction on seven floors of the Hotel Bentley tower.
Plans call for about 21 condos at the hotel and 94 hotel rooms when it reopens. People living in the Bentley’s condos will have 24-hour security as well as room and valet service, Jenkins says. “There is nothing like it in Central Louisiana,” he adds. The Hotel Bentley, once it re-opens, will feature the original stained-glass windows and the two huge chandeliers that light the porch.
Jenkins’ name has become synonymous with Alexandria’s downtown revitalization plans and his passion for preservation of historic buildings is well noted. “Historically, downtown was the heart of the city. It was where everything was happening, and it could be again. Downtown revitalization is vital,” Jenkins says of the many renovation projects and efforts that have been underway in the downtown area for at least the past 10 years. He is putting his money where his heart is. Besides the Hotel Bentley, other buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places that Jenkins owns include the Diamond Grill, the Commercial Bank Building, and the Masonic Building. He also owns the Chase Bank Building downtown. Jenkins is quickly becoming the face and voice of downtown revitalization.
Seated in the beautifully appointed Diamond Grill, Jenkins glances at the detail on the walls and ceiling of the Art Nouveau-Art Deco building, and talks about passion for the restoration of historic buildings. “You cannot get this building quality now, so we have to preserve the treasures we have in Alexandria,” he says. The Diamond Grill, constructed in 1931, housed the former C.A. Schnack’s Jewelry store for more than 65 years. The building received a 2006 Preservation Honor Award for its renovation. With its romantic ambience, the Diamond Grill offers intimate fine dining as well as two separate banquet areas upstairs capable of seating 120 people comfortably.
An only child, Jenkins was raised in Evangeline Parish in Clearwater, which had a population of about 100 people. His father was a carpenter and his mother was a “full-time mom”. Wanting to preserve his family roots, Jenkins recently bought his 800-square-foot childhood home and had it moved to Loyd Hall, an antebellum plantation in Cheneyville that Jenkins owns. Loyd Hall, built around 1820, is at the heart of a 640-acre working farm. Throughout his life, Jenkins says he learned the value of working hard toward set goals. While attending Bayou Chicot High School, he had several jobs to help earn money to attend college. “I raised hogs and cattle to sell. All through high school, I sold fishing worms, washed cars and mowed yards,” Jenkins recalls. At 17 years old, on a trip to visit some family members, Jenkins met Jennifer, who years later became his wife.
On a $100 per semester scholastic scholarship and with the money he earned, Jenkins studied at Louisiana State University of Alexandria for two years before transferring to LSU in Baton Rouge. He earned his degree in business management from LSU in 1970. Following his graduation from LSU, Jenkins immediately volunteered for the draft and entered U.S. Army basic training at Ft. Polk. He then had his advance training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Upon completion of his training, Jenkins went straight to Vietnam. When he returned to the United States, Jenkins went to work for an insurance company, where he worked for about eight years.
Eventually, Jenkins started his own financial service business back in Alexandria, and has been in the financial service industry for 42 years. He is the owner of Jenkins Financial Services, located at 201 Johnston St., which is housed in a historic building he owns. Currently, Jenkins sits on the LSUA Foundation Board and is an active member in Alexandria Rotary Club. He is a past member of the Rotary Board and a past president of the Louisiana Association of Life Underwriters. Jenkins is also the past president of a hunting and fishing club on a large tract of land on the Mississippi River. He is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. Jenkins and his wife, “Jenny”—as he calls her—have three grown children, Christi, Mike and Rebecca, and six grandchildren.
In helping to preserve and protect the places that tell the stories of the city’s past, Jenkins says he hopes that future generations will be able to have an enhanced quality of life if they live and shop along the Red River. He says restoring the historic buildings of a bygone era enable a new generation to make memories and breathe life into the downtown area.
For all his accomplishments and tireless dedication to Alexandria’s preservation and revitalization, we proudly honor Michael Jenkins as the 2014 Cenla-ian of the Year.
Editor’s Note: All property photos courtesy of Jeff G. Stephens. Portraits by Susan Stevison.