The shame of Hot Springs

They nailed plywood over the windows of the old Majestic Hotel in Hot Springs this week.

Yes, the Majestic has been closed since 2006 so the decay of that complex isn’t exactly news.

Yes, the three buildings that make up the complex have been deteriorating for years.

But symbolism is a powerful thing, and that plywood is symbolic.

It sends the wrong message about our state and its business leadership. It sends the wrong message about our priorities.

This is a city that once fancied itself as the Saratoga of the South. Is it becoming the Detroit of the South, at least downtown?

It’s not just the Majestic.

It’s the adjacent Velda Rose Hotel.

It’s the Medical Arts Building, which for many years was Arkansas’ tallest structure.

It’s the Howe Hotel.

It’s the other historic buildings that have been empty for years. Rather than being charming relics, they’ve become eyesores. And they send the message that this once-great American resort is in a tailspin that can’t be reversed.

Oh, I know all about the landlords who won’t take on major renovation projects.

I’ve heard about the antiquated, often confusing city codes.

I know there has been progress in recent decades when it comes to adding art galleries and an antique store or two to the downtown mix.

I know of Josie Fernandez’ heroic efforts on behalf of the National Park Service to renovate long-shuttered bathhouses and lease them out for other uses.

I know there’s yet another expansion beginning a few miles to the south at Oaklawn Park. The quality of racing there is as good as it has ever been.

I know of the tremendous growth down Arkansas Highway 7 South toward Lake Hamilton, which has occurred the past three decades.

I know that Steve Arrison of Visit Hot Springs is one of the best in the country at what he does.

I know the convention center, the Summit Arena and the adjacent Embassy Suites are nice facilities.

I also know this: I grew up in the area and I’ve watched large parts of downtown Hot Springs wilt for more than 40 years now as most investment occurred south of downtown. I’ve watched the quality of hotel rooms decline, the quirky auction houses depart and the demographic of downtown visitors change. This is not to be elitist. I’m simply stating a fact: Downtown Hot Springs no longer has the critical mass of nice hotel rooms, spas, fine dining establishments and live entertainment needed to attract the type of high-dollar, out-of-state visitors one can now find in downtown Bentonville. The Bentonville visitors are staying at the 21c Museum Hotel, eating at The Hive and visiting the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. They’re spending big bucks while they’re in our state.

“Yeah, but not many places have an Alice Walton who can use personal funds to create a world-class art museum,” the Hot Springs loyalist counters.

Fair enough.

Just hear me out.

That stretch of Central Avenue — from its intersection with Grand Avenue north to where Central runs into the decaying Majestic Hotel — is the most important stretch of urban street in Arkansas and one of the most iconic stretches in the South.

It’s our Bourbon Street, our Beale Street, our Canal Street, our San Antonio Riverwalk. It’s the place a lot of people from surrounding states associate with Arkansas. It’s iconic. It’s important.

That’s why the plywood that went up this week on the windows of the Majestic sent such a horrible message to the rest of the world.

For too long, downtown Hot Springs has been the elephant in the room (or the alcoholic uncle or the crazy aunt in the attic, if you prefer) that Arkansans chose not to talk about.

We knew some of our state’s most historic buildings were empty and deteriorating. We knew the overall quality of the hotel experience was declining. But we headed out to Lake Hamilton, got on a party barge, waved at the tourists riding the Ducks and pretended that the out-of-state visitors wouldn’t notice once they got downtown.

Well, they’ve noticed.

Go to TripAdvisor, the top travel website, and read the reviews of the visitor experiences at various locations in downtown Hot Springs. Some of them will embarrass you as an Arkansan.

That stretch of Central Avenue is so important to who we are as Arkansans — to our sense of place, our sense of history — that it should now become a statewide priority to attract investors who will buy the empty buildings and bring them back to life.

Do such people exist? Let’s hope so. Let’s at least make an all-out effort to find them.

This is not just a Hot Springs problem, you see. It’s an Arkansas problem. The Majestic, along with the other empty buildings on Central Avenue, send a message to others about how much we care about our state’s landmark locations. I frankly can think of few economic development opportunities in the state that are bigger.

The governor should be involved. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission should be involved. The Arkansas Development Finance Authority should be involved.

We read a great deal about efforts to attract a steel mill to Mississippi County. That’s a good thing. Yet the revitalization of downtown Hot Springs could be so much bigger. Why aren’t we reading about efforts along those lines?

Unfortunately, Arkansas investors haven’t stepped up.

Here’s the potential silver lining: Hot Springs is less than a five-hour drive from one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. The time has come to mine the Dallas-Fort Worth area not only for visitors but also for investors who can take those rotting buildings downtown and transform them into mixed-used developments with boutique hotel rooms, spas, fine dining, upscale retail and live music.

Build it, promote it and they will come. There are literally thousands of well-heeled travelers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (that doesn’t even begin to mention the Houston market) who are looking for that which is real rather than another amusement park.

They’ve already visited New Orleans, which has its own culture. They’ve already visited San Antonio, which has its own culture. These are unique cities that have capitalized on their history.

Now, what if Hot Springs were to capitalize on its colorful history and singular culture while offering these visitors the kinds of hotel rooms and restaurants they’ve come to expect? There’s nothing wrong with Hot Springs attracting those ol’ boys from Sardis who drive down for the day to drink beer and tube out on Lake Hamilton. But what if we were also to add the free-spending Texans to the mix, people ready and willing to buy art and antiques to take home to the Lone Star State?

Dead buildings can be brought back to life. Take what’s happening in Mineral Wells, Texas, a city of fewer than 17,000 residents that’s about 50 miles west of Fort Worth in Palo Pinto County. There are plans to reopen the Baker Hotel, which has languished longer than the Majestic and the Velda Rose.

“The 14-story hotel, long the dominant feature in the Mineral Wells skyline, has been stripped of just about everything valuable,” Bill Hanna wrote in last Sunday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Rooms are trashed and windows broken. Entrances are covered with sheets of plywood, forcing city officials to constantly seal new entryways pried open by trespassers — the Baker’s most frequent guests.”

Sound familiar?

A group of developers led by Laird Fairchild of Hunter Chase Capital Partners in Southlake, Texas, is trying to put together a renovation package that utilizes federal tax credits, state tax credits and an Environmental Protection Agency grant for lead and asbestos abatement. The developers also hope to use the federal EB-5 visa program, which allows international investors to gain U.S. residency by putting at least $500,000 in a U.S. business that creates or preserves 10 or more full-time jobs.

Such packages — while difficult to put together — hold promise for downtown Hot Springs. Investors must combine state tax credits, federal tax credits, EPA grants, incentives for foreign investors and more. It takes tenacity.

Though Hot Springs is larger and more famous than Mineral Wells, the two towns have much in common.

“The town began as a health resort when officials claimed that mineral water cured a variety of disorders,” Hanna wrote. “By 1909, Mineral Wells had 46 hotels or boarding houses, and published reports said that by 1910, some 150,000 people a year were visiting the wells, according to the Texas Almanac. By 1920, the town had 400 mineral wells, and it was billed as the South’s greatest health resort, according to the Handbook of Texas.

“The 200-room Crazy Water Hotel would open in 1927, and hotel magnate T.B. Baker would open the Baker in 1929, the same year as the stock market crash. When the Baker opened, it included mineral baths, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a rooftop nightclub known as the Cloud Room, where old-timers could recall hearing music stream out across town at night. Among the celebrities who stayed at the Baker were Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Roy Rogers and the Three Stooges.”

Former Baker Hotel assistant manager Roy Walker told the Star-Telegram in 1993 that the hotel also attracted “big-name stars like Lawrence Welk, Sophie Tucker, the Dorsey Brothers. You couldn’t find a parking place for blocks.”

The Baker Hotel at Mineral Wells closed in 1963. It reopened in 1965 and closed again in 1972. Last December, another abandoned Mineral Wells hotel, the Crazy Water, was purchased by a group of Las Vegas investors who plan to renovate it.

If you need another example of what’s possible in downtown Hot Springs, look to Big Spring, Texas, and its Hotel Settles. Big Spring is in west Texas, about 40 miles from Midland. The Settles, built in 1930, closed in 1980. It reopened in December 2012 thanks to Dallas businessman Brint Ryan, who is also a partner in the Baker Hotel project. Also involved in both projects is an Austin-based development company known as the La Corsha Hospitality Group.

The Settles can be seen briefly in the opening scenes of the 1969 movie “Midnight Cowboy.”

During the oil boom of the late 1920s, W.R. Settles bought land at the corner of Third Street and Runnels in downtown Big Spring. He spent $500,000 on the hotel, which would go on to host guests ranging from Elvis Presley to Herbert Hoover. It was the finest hotel in west Texas.

“There’s a lot of emotion around the Baker, and there was a lot of emotion around the Settles,” Jeff Trigger of La Corsha told the Star-Telegram. “There’s just no reason why it can’t be the same thing in Mineral Wells as it is in Big Spring. But the Baker is just on a much larger scale, with about twice as many rooms and 18,000 square feet of public-function and meeting space. I think we would have weddings every weekend of the year once this opens.”

Trigger has been involved in the renovation of historic hotels such as the Mansion, Adolphus and Stoneleigh in Dallas along with the Driskill in Austin and the St. Anthony in San Antonio.

Has the state tried to get Trigger and his partners interested in downtown Hot Springs?

Has the state approached those Las Vegas investors involved in the Crazy Water?

If not, why not?

Economic development in the 21st century is about so much more than steel mills. It’s about attracting talented people. A place with (for lack of a better term) a funky vibe such as downtown Hot Springs could no doubt attract young, smart entrepreneurs who would live in downtown condos and loft apartments, eat in downtown restaurants and frequent downtown entertainment venues. Downtown Hot Springs could be our mini-Austin, complete with food trucks and resident hipsters.

Palm Springs suddenly became hip again after a long decline. Miami Beach became hip again after a long decline.

Let’s dream big. Let’s have a vision. Let’s stop turning our heads and ignoring the very real problems.

There’s so much history there. There’s so much that’s real.

For instance, spring is approaching, and I’m reminded that baseball spring training began in Hot Springs. The Hot Springs Historic Baseball Tail has been a fine addition to the city’s attractions. Every baseball geek in America should want to take a pilgrimage to Hot Springs.

It’s also racing season, and I’m reminded of a time when the Oaklawn race meet meant big-time entertainment at the Vapors. Tony Bennett, Edgar Bergen, the Smothers Brothers. They were all at the Vapors.

Dane Harris, who died in 1981, joined forces with noted gangster “Owney” Madden, who had once owned the Cotton Club in New York, to build the Vapors in the summer of 1959 at 315 Park Ave. The facility opened in 1960 with a spacious lobby, the Vapors Coffee Shop, the Monte Carlo Room for meetings, a dinner theater and a casino. There were two live shows every night during the race meet.

Tony Bennett wrote in his autobiography that he first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at the Vapors. As he rehearsed the song, a Vapors bartender cried out: “If you guys record that song, I’ll buy the first copy.”

Michael Hodge wrote in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture: “In the late morning of Jan. 4, 1963, an explosion rocked the Vapors, causing extensive damage. Twelve injuries were reported, and three people required hospitalization. Speculation about who was responsible ranged from outside crime syndicates attempting a takeover to local small club owners lashing out in response to raids against their own facilities. Such raids were intended to take the public pressure off authorities while leaving more prominent clubs like the Vapors alone.

“As a result of the bombing, a wall separating the casino from the lobby was demolished, exposing the club’s gaming tables and slot machines to the street. Reporters covering the bombing for the Arkansas Gazette managed to snap a photograph of the slot machines and craps tables against the orders of police officers securing the area. The photo appeared on the front page of the next day’s edition, providing clear poof of illegal gambling in Hot Springs. But illegal gambling would not be completely curtailed in the city until 1967, six months into the first term of reformist Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.

“Unlike many former casinos in Hot Springs, the Vapors continued to operate as a nightclub and restaurant after its casino was closed. In 1977, responding to changing tastes in entertainment, Dane Harris began renovations to the club, which would see the addition of the Cockeyed Cowboy and Apollo Disco, as well as an additional showroom completed in 1980. The Vapors continued to operate as a nightclub into the 1990s but only as a lackluster shadow of its former self. The building was sold in October 1998 to Tower of Strength Ministries for use as a church.”

Major league baseball’s spring training isn’t coming back to Hot Springs.

Downtown casino gambling isn’t coming back to Hot Springs.

But these historic buildings cry out for redevelopment. The potential is enormous.

That plywood that went up at the Majestic this week should serve as a wake-up call for all Arkansans. It’s time to address the situation in downtown Hot Springs before it’s too late.

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75 Responses to “The shame of Hot Springs”

  1. Martin Eisele says:

    Marty: “…you certainly have sparked something here.”
    Yeah. well, at least someone did.
    Maybe this will get the attention on all those blockading progress downtown.
    Even Ted Turner invested in the former Hot Springs, NM, now known as Truth or Consequences, NM.
    What’s it gonna take, HS?

  2. Jeremy Nelson says:

    Ken Wheatly and his family own the 95% buildings downtown, most empty. He refuses to spend the money. Ken Wheatley did transfer and give a 100 yr lease to a friend, local entrepreneur and downtown businessman to revitalize downtown. Within one year he filed a fraudulent lawsuit to regain control of the buildings due to the pressure of the tenants who have business’s in those downtown buildings. Those teneants are paying the lowest rent per square foot in the state and beyond. When their rents were raised, the tenants put the pressure on Kem Wheatley and his family.
    So much pressure, that Mr. Wheatley, a
    Sunday school reacher, files lawsuit full if lies to regain the control of the properties and void the lease. . Of course, money and corruption still runs Hot Springs and he won. The non revitalization of downtown is the fault of the downtown business owners and the Wheatley family. I know this all to be a fact because it was my step father who was the once family friend and head of the revitalization corporation that the Wheatley turned their back on and then lied under oath due to the pressures of a few downtown business owners. Ken Wheatley.. Sunday school teacher…Christian…..the one to blame for the decline if downtown!!

  3. Melinda says:

    An outsider looking in:

    1. Michael, I think it is funny that you say there is nothing to do there.
    Lakes-fishing, boating, skiing
    Bath houses
    Art
    Magic Springs
    Some crazy rock place for jeeps
    Hiking
    Oaklawn
    Casino
    Mall- We have big malls and I like the mall in Hot Springs just fine.
    Putt-Putt
    Bowling
    Movie Theaters
    I live just outside of Memphis, TN. The crime here is horrible! The kids here think there is nothing to do either. Hot Springs actually has more to do then we have here. The only thing that we have, that you don’t is the Fed-Ex Forum, concerts, basketball, Night Life (if your not to scared to go down there) etc. But, for the time it takes for most of us in Memphis to get to this location downtown, You can drive to Little Rock for the same kind of venue.

    2. Les Surfas, I looked up your building, very nice!

    3. To the family that owns 12 buildings- I love the Ohio Club, we visited on one of our recent trips. But Shame on you for blaming someone else for the reason of not fixing up your buildings! For God Sake, Curb Appeel, Curb Appeel. Maintaining the outside your buildings is your job, adds value and invites people in. Not fixing up the interior upstairs that is not rented, well that is your business.

    4. The problem with downtown, everyone closes up Shop by dark!
    Make a Facebook page with what is Happening. There needs to be events downtown to draw people.

    5. A lot of artist are down there, get people involved. I know of several places that have a Wine & Paint party. They are charging like $50 a person to come in and the artist supplies canvas, Paints, Clean up and everyone gets instructed on how to paint a picture, everyone leaves with the same picture, but theirs.

    Have pottery classes, how to make jewelry.

    You have to get the WORD out on what is happening!

    On my blog, simplebutfabulous.blogspot.com, I have a page dedicated to Hot Springs and my picks of things to do, I also have some post under Labels as to Hot Springs. Check it out and if you have a suggestion for us to try out, let me know.

    One of the reasons we bought our retirement home there, was because of downtown.

  4. Melinda says:

    Use the History to draw a crowd….Businesses need to work together to build business and not just rely on the City. The seems to a be a lack of something there. Surely, you have a downtown business club, if you don’t you need one and have monthly meetings about advertising and drawing events. The Art Gallery walk seems to be a Big Draw. We have been down there many times. The QuaPaw has music on the same night and I can tell you. It was nice sitting out on the front porch having a glass of wine. Rolando’s little nook in the mountain is Fabulous! I am sure there are more and if you have one,( a nook accessible from your business) you need to Reep the benefits of it. Just like some places like Belle Street have a huge Pub crawl, Hot Springs could have Gangster Nights. Hot Springs needs to use its History as a draw. The more people downtown the more money as in investments will come downtown.

  5. Ann says:

    Rex I have enjoyed ur web site and especially ur article on The Majestic Hotel. I have to agree w/quite a lot of individuals that have voiced their input about our elected officials n Hot Springs. If u go to the board meeting on Feb 18 u will witness how The Belvedere Country Club is being treated. This entity is very historic as well. They have allow it to b re zoned and now have plans to evidently chop it up (after the owners allowed it to run down). Sell the golf course & club house to individuals to bring it back to life and develop the 400 and somewhat acreage for the owners & city officials to b satisfied. The entity and all other historic places here n Hot Springs could be restored but when u have individuals on the planning commission and the city board clapping their hands for destruction. Why do people choose to retire here….it’s the history and hopefully entertainment. How many entertainers have been brought here…u have all these old buildings and the belvedere country club to provide entertainment… But someone has to promote these projects. Those someone’s should b our elected & appointed officials. Not them allowing to destroy history. Just a repaired roof over the Majestic would have save her from decay and being sold to people that care….

  6. John Girolamo says:

    Let’s be clear about a few things.

    There are people that do good things for downtown:

    Matt Fuller: Central Park fusion
    Joe and Penny Gargano: Porter House, Belle Arti’, Regancy
    JoAnn Privitello: Park Hotel, Angel’s, Angel in the Park
    Tillman’s
    Brick House Grill
    Picante Mexican
    Pancake Shop
    Bohemia Park Bistro
    Fat Jacks
    Just to name a few.

    Be careful not to through the baby out with the bathwater.

    You can believe it or not but Oaklawn Gaming has had a disastrous effect on all these businesses. Remember that the track was failing so they got a monopoly to save their butts. To somehow give the Gaming portion of Oaklawn the distinction of having been part of this city for over a hundred years is a joke.

    The city will bend over backwards for Oaklawn for reasons found elsewhere in this comment section.

    Remember it was the cities corruption that let this happen many years ago. Yet somehow they are relieved of that responsibility with each new set of leaders. In any corporation including municipal ones the corporations remain ultimately responsible for their past mistakes. So the city Gov’t should do 2 things. Stop pointing fingers except at themselves and do the due diligence to understand what Oaklawn Gaming is doing to this city.

    You mentioned that Oaklawn was the Saratoga of the South. Well you should check out the problems Saratoga is having with their new Gamming at their Race Track. Race tracks were dwindling and are only propped up by gambling. Otherwise they would have adjusted to reality or gone out of business. That is what happens in a capitalistic Society. What monopoly will you give these business owners to survive?
    The Cella’s are first and foremost Race Horse lovers; this is their hobby in essence. Should Hot Springs sink like all other cities with Racino’s so they can have their hobby. Games of Skill is gambling no matter what you say. You can call a “Duck” a “Bird” but it is still a “Duck.
    Eric Jackson is a smart man, no doubt, and he often states that “They caught lightning in a bottle” with gaming. I would be careful with that bottle it could blow up in their faces unless they stop being an Island unto themselves. The city has lost all credibility with downtown businesses because of their brainlessly following of Oaklawn.

    Know lets step back and look at the Wheatley’s. By default, perhaps, they have been the biggest preservationist downtown. Without them over the years this city would have long lost these buildings. Now I have no love for the Wheatley’s but they are not the villains here. Many people have tried to do good things here and have been run off and not by the Wheatley’s.
    People get disgusted when they get the kind of resistance that the city gives them; and gives everything to places like Oaklawn. When the city stares you in the face and states “We will bend over backwards and help you” only to find that you start and then in comes all the stops in the world delivered by the same people.

    Well you say things are different now. Well now that you have run off real investors and wore down the people that have invested with the likes of “Oaklawn Gaming”. Something’s Up; or there is just massive brain dead people running the city.

    Now about the Majestic. Yes it is sad. But here is how it will play out.
    Monty Scott sold it to an organization that had no funds. They sold it to a “Shell Corporation” that also will have no funds. The City will pay for it and not be reimbursed for the $1,000,000.00 cost of this disaster. They will have a lien on the vacant lot that might be worth $250,000.00.
    The city will eat this one big time. They will turn around and blame everyone downtown for it. That is how it goes in Hot Springs.

  7. Seth says:

    Why can’t downtown gambling return? That would be an easy way to attract investment.

  8. Holly says:

    Wait, has the Velda Rose been closed?? I love to stay there…

    I have stayed at the Velda Rose and at the “Hell Wheatly” and I know which I prefer!

  9. John Girolamo says:

    Oaklawn has a monopoly on gambling in Hot Springs. They have a grip on the Chamber and City Directors along with many City employees. It could be done but first you would have to purge these people and dump the Chamber.

    The Velda Rose is closed and so has Howard Johnson’s.

    Oaklawn continues to purchase land in other corporate names with their excess cash. Soon this will be Oaklawn City not Hot Springs.

    You can now bet on the track races on your smart phone. That will help tourism in Hot Springs. If you believe Oaklawn. The only “Skill” here is Oaklawn’s ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth and say two different things at the same time.

  10. Mynamehere says:

    I don’t like John, but he’s right on the money. It is true that Wheatley has helped more people than anyone, he just doesn’t get credit. Oaklawn is the big winner here. I don’t think people realize what it costs to renovate. We have a wonderful downtown with great assets, I see people fall in love with it everyday.
    Oaklawn has made so much on the state of Arkansas, and Hot Springs Just now 20+ million, , why don’t they take on a project downtown?

  11. Ann says:

    I’m not versed on Political pulls, nor individuals that own what… But I fully believe with persistent input & stay on top of our elected officials plus informing the public of the destruction of historic properties such as The majestic Hotel… The paper today posted how much it will cost the current owner to reimburse hot springs for the demolition of the hotel and all the expense involved could have been invested in taking care of the roof to have eliminated all the destruction inside the hotel prior to the fire. The Belvedere country club house also has leaks n the roof. The owners know of this & refuse to repair. As u see when u pass this historic golf course … They refuse and have refused to secure the beauty & trying to bring it back to life. What u don’t see is the club house that has such history as well. Ask them why they aren’t repairing the roof of the club house. I agree with the individual prior about Memphis. Another entity n Hot Springs just showed on tv about the ball park where the pros played while here (the old seats r still there) why aren’t the seats cleaned out & roped off to show their history rather than a plate on the ground. Look n the woods & u will have a hard time seeing them but they r there amongst overgrowth of vines and small trees. What is it that gets the Spirit up after the fact… I truly don’t understand why r elected officials don’t promote the history here & do everything they can to make sure Hot Springs is brought back to life for the reason we have tourist visiting out town. Again pool together & insist & help to reclaim Hot Springs historical buildings and areas. If individuals want to purchase these building and locations then stay on top of them to follow thru w/their preservations not allowing what had happened to the majestic.. Again look at the cost of the clean up & all expense involved… Could have been put forth prior to save this faculty w/the upkeep of the roof to eliminate most of the decay.

  12. John Girolamo says:

    It’s always nice when people that don’t like you and still agree with you. Thank you!
    I am curious about all the people that say we should bring gambling downtown. How many of you agree with that? I am not against gambling as I have said before. I am against privileged monopolies that suck the life out of downtown and other places in the city.
    I’m going to go out on a limb here. Email me if you would like gambling downtown. Like me or not. I don’t think it is impossible but people need to say if they do. Here is my email! GULP! johngirolamo@hotmail.com
    BE NICE!

  13. John Girolamo says:

    So far 83 for gambling downtown and 3 against.

  14. This reads like a manifesto for a run for governor. So are you just going to complain or are you actually going to roll up your sleeves and help get the job done. What’s it going to be…sit around and bitch and moan or put yourself out there and become a part of the solution?

  15. rexnelson says:

    I’ve already put in my decade working in the governor’s office, David. How about you?

  16. John Girolamo says:

    It is now 111 that say yes to gambling downtown and 9 say no.

    What do you think David, Yes or No

    We miss you David!

    It will take more than rolling up our sleeves. The context of thinking must change in this city or it will be all for nothing. While the city is trying to get proactive on downtown they must learn that proactive is leading not pushing.

    On the other hand they might actually think Proactive is Acne Medicine.

  17. rexnelson says:

    The problem, John, is that casino gambling downtown would require a statewide vote and it’s not going to happen. People have been talking about downtown gambling for decades now while historic downtown buildings crumbled around them. Far better to concentrate on what actually can happen — making downtown more of an arts and cultural attraction by building on the Hot Springs Music Festival and Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival — than continuing to dream of what you wish would happen while Rome burns. Maybe it should happen. But as an old political consultant friend of mine used to tell his clients, “should ain’t is.”

  18. John Girolamo says:

    Well, the only real gambling in the state of Arkansas, if you go by the law is the Lottery. The lottery is a game of chance. Recently the Attorney General stated that the Lottery already possessed the authority to implement Keno.

    Keno is a casino game that can be manipulated into gaming machines similar to Games of Skill. Just look up Keno Casino’s on Google.

    The possibility to recreate the past while supporting scholarships is certainly better than money lost to Oaklawn.

    Sometimes you have to look deeper to find that you already possess the things that look elusive. I say we already have the ability to have Gambling Downtown. If we can’t even get Oaklawn to the table to be synergistic with other businesses in the city; then I say let us join them. I don’t think Oaklawn could fight it. What could they say? Gambling is bad for you! That would be a little hard for them to say. No!

    Rex, check it out and you will see what I mean. Many Casinos have Keno rooms. Done with some smart thinking all of downtown could benefit by having a legitimate “State Sanctioned” form of gambling, recreating some past energy that was here before.

    It’s right under our noses!

  19. rexnelson says:

    I do enjoy the discussion, John. It’s a good thing. All avenues should indeed be debated and explored.

  20. John Girolamo says:

    181 for and 13 against. Rex you seem to have a bigger following that I thought.

    thanks

  21. John Girolamo says:

    Perhaps you will look at this proposal.
    A “Fire District” is commonly known as a political subdivision. It has the ability to tax within that “Fire District”.
    The city should get together with building owners and find what it would actually take to bring vacant structures or underutilized property, not just from a fire protection standpoint, as useful and productive redevelopment that fosters populating these premises downtown.
    Once calculating the funds required which would include fire suppression systems. The city will float a Bond Issue and pass to the Owners of buildings, to be developed, loans at the bond rate interest plus minor administrative cost. Once a particular building or buildings are completed and occupation has occurred (facilitated by promotions by the city, other groups and owners).
    The owner would then refinance and (Local banks will have to participate) make these returned funds available to other buildings in the district. A revolving fund so to speak.
    A tax should be created for a period of years, limited to the bonds payoff, to supplement the bonds payoff and provide low interest loans to small businesses that are renters not just owners; perhaps even residential property. The tax would apply to everyone in the fire district since the district protects everyone in it.
    This type of thinking allows for the palatable revitalization rather than the upset that is now being created.
    Remember that the city stated that it would find sources of funds for this district. This suggestion is on top of what the city can find elsewhere. I believe that those statement where inducements to get this district passed. It is important that the city keeps its word.
    If the city is actually thinking about floating a bond issue for a “Sports Complex” in the county at an amount of 15 – 18 million dollars at the same time as pushing downtown mandates. The City and its environs must readjust their thinking and put money where it is needed instead of nice amenities.
    It will take some time to do this but you can get people to agree or disagree on something like this now.
    This will also foster prospective purchasers or developers into knowing that there will be support for them to invest in Downtown along with the knowledge that there will be a population downtown.
    This is not rocket science; it is done all the time. I spoke with Chief Ed Davis many months ago about this.
    Think about it or come up with something else that could work.

  22. rexnelson says:

    Fascinating proposal, John. Do you sense any momentum to actually do this?

  23. John Girolamo says:

    It has been done before in other places. What it takes is for people to get out of the train and lay some new track. Instead of arguing what side of the train is better than the other. There is no good side of the train if it is headed off a cliff.
    I have sent it to the City Manager. He is looking into it.

    We shall see.

  24. Roger Dodger says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    The good ole boys of power do not want change. They thrive on the status quo. If we truly want to affect change in the downtown corridor, we must pool our resources, buy a building and renovate it. The medical Arts building screams this opportunity. It’s very much endangered and would not take too much prodding to get historic preservation monies. Who’s on board to spearhead this project? Who has talents, skills and/or experience raising funds, writing grant proposals, organizing, etc? Arkansas has some of the wealthiest families in the nation (Waltons, Stephens, Hunts, Murphys, Fords) why not start a grassroots effort for change?

  25. Mikey says:

    Great Article

    I DJ’ed in Hot Springs @ The Vapors Cockeyed Cowboy
    At Coys SteakHouse Thunderbirds & at KBHS before all their fires. It’s a horrible thing to see beautiful Hot Springs go like this but I stand by my earlier decision to move to Texas, making $ 13,000 a month I would never have done in Hot Springs! God Bless Hot Springs & everyone their !

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