In 1938, the first Auditorium Commission was appointed to oversee the administration of Robinson Auditorium. At the time, it was anticipated that the auditorium would be ready to open by no later than September 1939. (Actually, the building was originally supposed to have been opened by June 1938 in order to fulfill a funding request.)
The first chairman of the Auditorium Commission was H. Grady Manning. He was founder and president of Southwest Hotels, which included the Hotel Marion, Ben McGehee, Albert Pike, and Lafayette Hotels in Little Rock as well as the Arlington and Majestic Hotels in Hot Springs.
Manning was a native of Scott County. He moved to Fort Smith to attend a business college. To help defray expenses, he started working at the hotel in which he was staying. Enjoying this, he decided to make hotels his career. Manning then moved to Hot Springs and worked at the Eastman Hotel before moving to Niagara Falls to work at the Queen Royal Hotel. He returned to Arkansas in 1917 and became the assistant manager at the Hotel Marion. In 1919, he became the manager of the Basin Park Hotel in Eureka Springs before moving to Fort Smith and managing the Goldman Hotel.
In the 1920s, he founded Southwest Hotels, Inc. which then started building and acquiring existing properties. He and his wife, Ruth, resided in the Hotel Marion. His daughter, Joy, grew up at the hotel. With the proximity of his hotels to the forthcoming auditorium and his understanding of the convention business, Manning was a natural fit to lead the new auditorium commission. As construction woes delayed the opening of the building, Manning struggled to keep the commission together. The commission, by state statute, was not charged to oversee a construction project, but instead to administer a functioning building.
On Labor Day, 1939, Manning and his wife were enjoying the day at Lake Hamilton with some friends. The boat they were in capsized, and Manning drowned at the age of 47. The City was in mourning. A City Council resolution was passed to memorialize his contributions. In addition to being signed by Mayor J. V. Satterfield, it was signed by three members of the City Council–Aldermen E. W. Gibb, S. Major Dent, and Charles Davis.
Later in September, the remaining four members of the Auditorium Commission resigned. Since they had no building to manage and no leader, they decided it was best to disband. Mayor Satterfield declined to name their replacements until the building got closer to opening.
A few years after his death, the Ben McGehee was renamed the Grady Manning Hotel. That hotel, and the Hotel Marion were imploded in February 1980 to make way for the Statehouse Convention Center and the Excelsior Hotel.