The 112-year-old St. Joseph Center of Arkansas in North Little Rock has been everything from an orphanage, nursing home and daycare to a now urban farm.
This summer, it added “rustic farm stay” to its list, with three rooms for rent on Airbnb.
Known as The Belmont Hotel at St. Joseph, guests can book The Pike room, with a queen bed, The Robinson with two twin beds and The Benedictine — hearkening back to the center’s history with the Benedictine sisters — with a full bed. There’s a shared living room space, named the Park Hill room, as it was decorated about seven years ago by Park Hill Home in Conway, and a shared bathroom for the three offerings. They’ve had about four guests stay since early July when it opened.
“This place has just evolved as we’ve been here over the last 12 years,” said executive director Sandy DeCoursey.
The nonprofit, established in 2008, signed a 50-year lease with the Diocese of Little Rock in 2010 for the 56,000-square-foot historical building on 63 acres. The ministry has mainly focused on the grounds, with several farming, gardening and animal programs, a farm stand and several other community outreach programs.
“Piece by piece, it’s been the perfect setting for folks to come and get away,” she said.
The center has long been an overnight retreat option for guests. In 2021, it began offering RV space rentals, without hookups, and has since had more than 600 guests park and stay, DeCoursey said.
But the idea to refurbish the rooms for Airbnb, a popular service that allows the average person to rent out rooms from their home or property for stays, was the “brainchild” of St. Joseph Center board vice-chairman Scott Shellabarger, who soon got others excited about the prospect.
“Just because of the historic significance of the building, and it’s just a unique place to stay,” he said of why he thought the center would work for Airbnb. “You can stay in the city, there’s a lot of places to stay, but where you can stay in an old orphanage on an old working farm in the city limits?”
The venture was approved and budgeted by the board in fall 2021. A washer and dryer was purchased for the linens and air conditioners were put in each room. There are no TVs in the rooms.
Volunteer facility and rental coordinator Elaine Jones, with help from animal ambassador coordinator Jan Pownell, designed and decorated the rooms. Shellabarger and the center’s hired hospitality coordinator Bri Ham oversee reservations, and Ham is also available to assist guests. Breakfast is currently not provided, but single-source coffee is available in the shared living space. Locally crafted Copeland’s Lye Soap, available for sale at the center’s Farm Stand, and robes and slippers are available to guests in the rooms. A top selling point is the walking trails guests can enjoy, circling the property, Shellabarger said.
If a person does not want to stay at the center, they can also purchase a St. Joseph Center “experience” on Airbnb for $20 that includes a tour of the center, including its garden and animal programs and a history of the building.
“We’re charged with being self-sustaining and decided this would be a great revenue stream that capitalizes on assets we already have,” DeCoursey said, adding that the accommodations are “clean, it’s comfortable, but it’s certainly not flashy.”
Rooms are $75 per night, with a one-time $25 cleaning fee.
DeCoursey said they are close to opening up a fourth option, a suite, that was formerly where priests stayed at the center. It includes a sitting area, fireplace, bedroom and bathroom and will be $150 a night.
“I would say there’s multiple reasons,” to stay at the center, she said, explaining that guests could opt for tours, classes and explore the acreage. “The historic building, this is just an amazing property; if these walls could talk.”
DeCoursey said they anticipate peak rental seasons in the spring, fall and winter. Shellabarger said they estimate to bring in about $80,000 a year with the rentals.
Please read our Comments Policy before posting.Article comments powered by Disqus