Anniversaries are something to be proud of and this anniversary is certainly something our whole community can celebrate. October marked a decade since the purchase of the hotel Bentley by local businessman, Michael Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins spent the first five years renovating and restoring the property and the last five years showcasing it to our community. Mr. Jenkins’ commitment to the development of downtown Alexandria is well known, but not as many know all that is required to restore and maintain the cherished Hotel Bentley. The Hotel has a lengthy history of ownership, a prominent presence in our state history and has welcomed numerous special guests over the years.
The Hotel Bentley was constructed in 1907 by Joseph Bentley, a native of Pennsylvania who became wealthy in the lumber industry in Central Louisiana. Bentley was an eccentric fellow, and legend has it that the only reason he built the hotel is because he was turned down for a room in the former Ice House Hotel. Bentley was particularly impressed by the Capitol Hotel in Little Rock Arkansas, and asked architect George R. Mann to design him a hotel in Alexandria, which opened to the public on August 10, 1908.
In 1933, Bentley added a massive eight-story wing fronting Third Street to his hotel, adding more than 80 rooms. The extension was constructed by a local firm, Tudor-Ratcliff. Bentley ensured the hotel could also serve as his personal residence. He carved out a large apartment on one of the top floors and installed a personal elevator; both the apartment and the private elevator remain today.
During World War II, the United States military trained over a half a million troops in the Alexandria area. The commanders of these troops, Dwight Eisenhower and George S. Patton, resided for long periods of time at the Hotel Bentley, sometimes joined by Omar Bradley while planning the historic Louisiana Maneuvers.
Throughout the 1950s, the hotel continued to flourish, but by the late 1960s, the hotel closed for business for nearly a decade. On November 15, 1979, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 1980s, Buddy Tudor, a local developer, purchased and renovated the shuttered hotel. After millions of dollars in repairs, it was reopened to national acclaim in 1985. Mr. Tudor remained as owner for nearly 15 years until the late 1990s when he sold the hotel to a group out of New Orleans, and less than a year later, they sold the hotel to Bob Dean who eventually closed its doors in 2004.
On August 1, 2012, plans were announced for local entrepreneur Michael Jenkins to renovate and reopen the Hotel Bentley. The project called for luxury private residential units, upscale hotel, meeting rooms, full service restaurant, and cocktail lounge. On October 11, 2012, the sale from Dean to Hotel Bentley of Alexandria LLC, headed by Jenkins was completed. The hotel has undergone a multi-million-dollar restoration, which included upgrading all hotel rooms, event spaces, and common areas under the direction of Lloyd Moreau Contractors. The restoration also included replacing the properties infrastructures and systems. This included all new HVAC systems, Information Technology, plumbing, and electrical systems throughout the property. The original portion of the property has remained a hotel, featuring 93 guest rooms which have all been refurnished and upgraded to exceed today’s guest needs while the tower addition mentioned above has been completely emptied to accommodate upscale condominiums: the final phase of the Hotel Bentley’s renovations. The property was scheduled to begin the build out of the condominiums, but several events, including Hurricane Laura and COVID-19, put a halt to the process. In time, the project will bring a minimum of 12 residential units—all with views of the Red River—a private entrance, and will be available for purchase. It is hoped that development will resume soon.
The original Desoto Street facing structure of the Hotel Bentley remains open to travelers and continues to host community and private events. Mr. Jenkins continues to develop the property, most recently adding an exterior lighting project that included the addition of façade lighting on the Desoto Street columns and pavilion canopy lights. The columns can be programmed to any color and interact with events like AlexWinterFete. Recently, The Hotel Bentley was lit purple and gold to show support for LSU Football. Brides also have the option to have the hotel lit to match their wedding decor!
The lighting upgrade included installation of recessed lights in the motor valet and walkway lights along the drive, which add a safety component to the entire city block. New signage has been installed on Jackson Street, with the modernized logo in an effort to allow travelers find the property with ease. The grand lobby has been furnished with hand selected seating, furnishings, and decor to match the mosaic tile floor, adding an additional lounge area for guests awaiting events or check-ins. The furnishings are time specific with a modern edge, giving the lobby something new to match its grandeur. During the holidays, a 22-foot Douglas fir holiday tree is installed with decorations matching the mosaics. The tradition of dedicating the tree is announced each year prior to the holidays. Past dedications have included victims of COVID-19 and the passing of American Soldiers oversees. The tree was custom made and fit to showcase the marble fountain as its base.
The lobby also houses a World War II accredited mini exhibit. The exhibit introduces the timeline of the Hotel Bentley’s presence in the planning of the Louisiana Maneuvers. It features original artifacts, photos, and uniforms from the era. With the hotel’s historic involvement, Mr. Jenkins initiated the repair of the flagpole atop the property. The pole and mechanics were in disrepair and required a crane service to complete the project. The hotel once again proudly displays the American Flag and POW flag, the second highest in downtown Alexandria. The flag project also followed flag etiquette and required the installation of a base light to illuminate the flag at dusk.
Upgrading guest rooms was an important component in renovations and modifications. Furnishings and amenities in the rooms have all been upgraded from the original installation. The plush bedding and American made amenities add to the guest experience, setting The Hotel Bentley apart from others. All guest rooms are equipped with non-essential items like irons and iron boards, mini refrigerators, hair dryers, and expanded television offerings. The single most complimented item is the comfort of the mattresses, which have been upgraded from years past.
A building the magnitude of The Hotel Bentley requires ongoing preventative maintenance as well. The Bentley is constantly upgrading or replacing vital components, most of which go unnoticed to guests and visitors. One example is The Bentley’s 38 pumps that move water throughout the property for various systems. These pumps run 24 hours a day and require constant care. Some are original from the purchase, but most have been replaced. The hotel currently has six backup pumps in the event of a failure. The pumps come with a hefty price tag. The hotel is equipped with two traction elevators, which have been completely upgraded and modernized to meet today’s demand. While the guest cars are original, the two, 29-horsepower electric motors have been modified with modern controller components to ensure a smooth and safe ride. The Bentley has also increased the number of wireless access points and internet bandwidth to provide a smooth WiFi experience while navigating the property. The hotel’s network also allows for management to remotely monitor all systems of the property and make adjustments as necessary, bringing the historic property’s infrastructure into the modern day.
Another notable improvement and requirement due to Hurricane Laura was the replacement of the main structure and lobby roofing. The project spanned over 13 months and required a complete removal and replacement of over 20,000 square feet worth of roofing system. The Hotel Bentley hired local roofing contractor Dixie Roofing to complete the project. Dixie Roofing worked with hotel management as to not interrupt the flow of business and completed the project on time. The project involved removing the damaged system to the Bentley’s concrete base and installing a new system, complete with upgrades to make the property more efficient. As a result of the quarter of a million dollar project, the Hotel Bentley is again watertight.
A second natural disaster, the ice storm of February 2021, resulted in several mechanical breakdowns relating to cooling towers, sprinkler systems, and HVAC controls. The scope of work included custom fabrication of a cooling tower that serves 1/3 of the hotel rooms and upgrading all exterior exposed plumbing to a product suitable to withstand below average cold temperatures in Louisiana. The custom-built cooling tower took nearly eight months to build. All the time, the Hotel Bentley leased a temporary unit to keep the affected guest rooms in operation. This project cost nearly $120,000 and has been completed.
The Bentley Room and Mirror Room have been guest favorites since opening. The restaurant received all new appliances, three new walk-in refrigeration units, and a modified exhaust system to meet today’s fire prevention specifications. The restaurant dining room has undergone a few updates and will soon feature all new dining furniture and décor. The Mirror Room has stood the test of time and is has remained the place to be on weekends, after weddings, and during festivals. The bar received all new appliances, upgraded plumbing, storage, and furnishings. Expert bartenders are on hand to pour your vintage of wine or cocktail, deliciously crafted to order.
Effective January 1, 2022, Mr. Jenkins installed a board of directors to serve his properties in Rapides Parish. The properties consist of The Hotel Bentley of Alexandria, LLC, The Diamond Grill Restaurant LLC, Diamond Thrill, LLC dba The Bentley and Mirror Rooms, The Alexandria Commercial Building, Loyd Hall LLC, and The Alexandria Masonic building. Combined, these properties employee over 135 hospitality and service-related professionals. Michael Jenkins remains highly engaged in the operations of the properties. He serves as CEO and Board Chair. The board serving the properties consists of Jennifer Jenkins, Rebecca Jarred, Christi Fisher, and Michael Jenkins II and meets regularly to review operation and ensure longevity and proper maintenance of the properties in coordination with Jenkins Companies President and COO, Scott Laliberte.
The Hotel Bentley continues to be a magnificent landmark under the care of Mr. Jenkins and his team. Jenkins’ devotion to the city and The Hotel Bentley are apparent. His devotion is inspirational, and we all should appreciate the time, energy, financial investment and effort he has put into preserving and improving our beloved landmark hotel over the last ten years. Happy Anniversary to Mr. Jenkins on his tenth year of ownership and to his team that constantly showcase Central Louisiana hospitality from the shining jewel of Cenla that is the Hotel Bentley!