New Bentonville company seeks to reinvent hospitality concepts
Just over two years after leaving the restaurant business, longtime operator Scott Bowman is writing the next chapter in his hospitality career.
Bowman is CEO and one of three managing partners of High level hospitality in Bentonville. The company has operated quietly over the past few months while developing its investment strategy, but appears poised to move quickly after its initial acquisition in August.
Bowman has nearly 30 years of experience in the food and beverage industry in multiple markets, including Atlanta and Boston. Originally from Fort Smith, he moved to Fayetteville in 2005 and opened Theo’s in downtown Fayetteville.
Over the next 15 years, Bowman Restaurant Group (BRG) opened more than a dozen restaurants, bars and hotel dining concepts, becoming one of the region’s leading hospitality companies. But in 2020 he sold BRG after the pandemic changed the equation for the restaurant industry.
With HighGround, Bowman said he was most excited about the team and their qualifying. They cover many sectors, from hospitality and real estate to strategy, architecture and design, hotel development, luxury wellness and finance. They bring together a wide range of experience to design, build and operate a new generation of hospitality concepts.
Ramsay Ball of Bentonville and Jeff Glasco of Kansas City, Mo., are also managing partners. Ball is a real estate manager and investor with nearly 35 years of experience in Arkansas. Glasco is an entrepreneur and a business strategist.
“To have this full range of abilities [working together] is unheard of right now,” Bowman said in a recent interview. “I have been able to work with many talented people over the years but never a collection working on the same project at the same time, sharing the same values. This is a big problem for me.
Glasco began his career at Accenture and has spent the past 10 years building several new businesses. He said many directors have worked together on other projects, and he is convinced that collectively their skills and experience can be disruptive.
“It’s unique,” he says. “I haven’t experienced anything like this regarding how the team came together.”
Bowman believes the founding team’s wide range of capabilities gives HighGround an edge for potential customers.
“Whether we’re establishing and growing new brands, whether we’re partnering with clients, whether we’re offering professional services, that’s where we step in with immediate capabilities from day one,” he said.
Glasco believes the hospitality industry is poised to benefit from remote working and consumers who discovered the outdoors when the pandemic began in 2020.
The 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation, found that in 2020, 53% of Americans ages 6 and older participated in outdoor recreation at least once , the highest turnout ever. 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than the year before.
“We believe there is a great opportunity to meet consumers where they are,” he said. “And where they are today is looking for unique experiences. They don’t have to be mind-blowing experiences. Strategically, the common thread is well-being. Create spaces where you can rest and recharge on the road. This will be a key part of all these projects.
“Where the modern consumer is, that’s where we want to be. We don’t think many companies do this on a large scale.
Bowman said HighGround has nearly a dozen new and existing concepts in various stages of development and are spread from coast to coast and even in the US Virgin Islands. They focus on wellness, adventure travel, dining and lifestyle/luxury hotels.
The company’s initial project is an angling destination in Arizona. HighGround raised and raised $4.5 million from investors to buy Cliff Dwellers Lodge in Marble Canyon and two associated companies.
From Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, Cliff Dwellers offers some of the best trout fishing and paddling the lower waters of the Colorado River.
The previous owners intended to sell the property to partners who could deploy new capital to improve its offerings for future generations of adventurers.
HighGround is investing in updating the 21-room hotel, amenities, operations, and employee experiences at the property.
“With Cliff Dwellers, we have a unique opportunity to reinvent and revamp this already incredible mining business for the next 20 years,” Bowman said.
In the immediate term, HighGround is establishing three new brands, two of which in the outdoor leisure space.
Sky Outpost is an urban campsite on nearly 5 acres in downtown Grand Junction, Colorado on the banks of the Colorado River. HighGround partnered with founder Jen Taylor, a resident of Grand Junction, to bring her vision to life.
HighGround offered Taylor a true partnership to ensure the development and financial viability of the concept.
When completed, Sky Outpost will provide a place to recharge and relax for mountain travellers, hikers and cyclists. Accommodations include tents, cabins, retro trailers, RVs and campers.
El Jet’s Cantina is a restaurant concept attached to Sky Outpost or can be standalone.
Idyllwood is a natural adventure retreat concept with base camps, cabins and tents designed for regional or remote destinations. The first location is an 80-acre wooded site in Northfield, Mass., adjacent to the Connecticut River and is a public-private partnership. The site is under construction, with an opening scheduled for 2023 or 2024.
HighGround has partnered with Incredible Building Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, to supply soft-sided base camp dwellings and hard-sided cabins for all of its outdoor recreation brands. It is a separate company related to HighGround, owned by Glasco and Christian Arnold, a partner of HighGround and responsible for the architecture and design of the company.
“Incredible Building Co.’s initial vision is to serve customers like HighGround,” Glasco said. “If you look at the demand for two initial sites – Idyllwood and Sky Outpost – we will need product for those. So we basically build for those two.
HighGround creates a buzz with an Incredible Building Co. cabin on display in a vacant lot at 200 E. Central Ave. The owners will soon develop the site into a full-service, 142-room hotel slated to open in 2024. Bentonville’s holding company, Runway Group, led by Walton’s heirs, Tom and Steuart Walton, is the developer and a subsidiary of Walton owns the land.
“We have a permit to have the cabin there until mid-October, and we’re lucky the city and the owners are letting us come in and do that,” Glasco said. “They’ve been very generous. We wanted to start one in Bentonville because it’s a hub for outdoor recreation.
Glasco said Incredible Building Co. is focused on fulfilling retail orders, which will eventually be available to consumers.
HighGround is also working on a lifestyle hotel concept called The Line Up, envisioned to support traveling youth sports teams, families and weekend travelers.
Bowman said HighGround was under contract to buy an existing three-story hotel in the Legends Outlets shopping complex in Kansas City, Kansas, and convert it to The Lineup at Monarch Village. The deal is expected to close in November, with renovations starting in early 2023.
HighGround will expand The Line Up locations across the United States by identifying high traffic areas with sports facilities and partnerships with facility operators. The company has already identified more than a dozen possible locations in 10 states.
Glasco said HighGround’s $4.5 million capital raise via a special purpose vehicle (SPV) came from individual investors, many of them in northwest Arkansas. The strategy for the initial projects is to continue to operate a regional network of angel investors in northwest Arkansas and metro Kansas City.
He said HighGround plans to deploy between $15 million and $25 million in capital over the next three to six months.
“So far, the response from angel investors has been very warm,” he said. “Especially for cliff dwellers. This is such an anomaly of a property. The fact that we were able to conclude this agreement is a testament to the appetite of investors. Now we are starting to have discussions with more institutional investors, where they can seize greater opportunities.
Bowman said retaining investors is key to HighGround’s growth strategy.
“We are building a network of investors and want them to be lifelong investors in HighGround,” he said. “Cliff Dwellers investors have the opportunity to join the next project that may be right for them. We build a good foundation and also show loyalty to them.