Arkansas Business recently featured downtown Hot Springs and the development that is taking place.
The fire that destroyed the historic Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs three years ago helped prompt a wave of development in the downtown district.
After the fire that burned much of the vacant Majestic, which had anchored the north end of Central Avenue, a pile of bricks littered the sidewalk. Getting the site cleaned up was difficult because some asbestos-containing building materials were among the debris.
City officials, civic groups and others gathered and developed a plan to improve downtown. The meetings resulted in several recommendations, including strengthening building codes and creating a downtown development director position.
“The Majestic fire struck an emotional chord with a lot of investors and developers who were either on the fence about downtown or weren’t even considering downtown,” said Cole McCaskill, downtown development director for the Hot Springs Metro Partnership.
Since McCaskill was hired in the summer of 2014, downtown development has seen a flurry of activity, including more than $22.3 million worth of
commercial property purchased. The most expensive transaction occurred in October 2015 when GRGCBHS LLC, led by Gary R. Gibbs of Brentwood, Tennessee, bought the Austin Hotel at 305 Malvern from Spa Lodging Inc. for $10.15 million. It was renovated and renamed The Hotel Hot Springs & Spa.
“There’s been a new energy in the city,” said Steve Arrison, CEO of the Hot Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Hot Springs has been a resort community and the No. 1 tourism destination in Arkansas forever. And it just continues to recreate itself. The old is still there, but we’re adding some great new to it.”
The city of Hot Springs also stepped in. It bought the Majestic Hotel in August 2015 for $673,000 from Gary Hassenflu of Park Properties LLC in Kansas City, after he failed to clean up the property. The site has been cleared and is awaiting final environmental approval before the location is redeveloped.
The city will ask for recommendations for what to put at the site, McCaskill said.
Some are pushing for the site to showcase the thermal water at the location. The Majestic had thermal water pumped in from Hot Springs National Park two blocks away, McCaskill said. “That would probably be the best use of that site, …so people could experience it,” he said.
A decision is expected by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Hot Springs developer Jason Taylor has several projects under development in downtown. He said he was motivated to invest in the area to improve entertainment options. “People come down here, they walk Bathhouse Row, they spend some time here,” he said, “and then they leave."
He wants to change that. Next month in his seven-story Citizens Building at 723 Central, a restaurant will open on the first floor and a jazz club will be on the second. The remaining floors will be condominiums.
“Downtown is hopping,” Taylor said. “Downtown is starting to really, really come back and be re-energized.”
To see all other development that’s going on in Hot Springs check out the remainder of the article here.
The Hot Springs Metro Partnership is the area’s public/private economic development organization, serving all of Garland County.