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.

77 Responses to “The shame of Hot Springs”

  1. BMcIntyre says:

    I have read your article with great interest and personal shame. I have not lived in Hot a Springs in 36 years and have not visited in 11 years. However, I try to keep in touch with friends and I was aware of the declining condition of the Majestic, but I was not aware that the problem went from Park Avenue all the way down Central to Grand Avenue! It IS shameful and unnecessary. But it is what is happening all over America–in the name of progress no less! I live in Mississippi and we have a program here that has as it’s sole purpose to re-vitalize Downtown areas. This program would not help the Majestic, but it could definitely do a lot for the downtown in general. We used to have empty storefront after empty storefront. Now the stores are filled with a nice mix of retail, restaurants, offices, the local art complex and the welcome center and visitors center. Some of the upstairs have been converted into Loft or other Upscale apartments. There is more going on downtown now than when I moved here 36 years ago. The driving force is the merchants organization,Main Street Columbus. There is a full time director. This person is hired by the merchants. He/she works not only with the merchants but also with the Visitors and Welcome Center, the local Art Gallery and anyone else with whom a beneficial partnership can be accomplished for the betterment of the downtown area. Main Street Columbus has, for 15 years, put on an extremely successful Festival right in the middle of downtown. For 10 years this festival has been listed in Southern Living’s Best Festivals in the South! The first Main Street Director is now the Regional Director for Northeast Mississippi. While you are spot-on about needing BIG money for some of what needs to be done–not all will require that kind of money. It will require organization, a committed group of property owners and a leader. I know this will be helpful if not absolutely what Hot Springs MUST do to save itself. I have spoken with Brenda Bramdenburg about The Majestic. She is more than a little passionate about the hotel. You can contact her thru FB. Use my ne. But better yet, call me. Get together a group of interested people and come to Columbus, MS. I will have our director and the regional director show you that what I have told you is true. I love Hot Springs and I want it to prosper! You can reach me at 662-327-0789. Beverly Holmes McIntyre

  2. Joe Jacobs says:

    Rex, I strongly believe the way to save Hot Springs is getting to it’s roots as a recreational destination. The Diamond Lakes, the Mountains, the incredible trails, etc. Hot Springs could be the Asheville, NC or Bozeman, MT of Arkansas and should be, it’s better than those towns. The focus on Oaklawn is not going to save the city, focusing on the natural attributes of the town is what needs to be happening. Getting young people to the town, the trendy will follow and fill the hotels. Micro-breweries, a more prominent food scene, promotion of outdoor activities and funding of additional outdoor venues will bring new money. Participatory sports like hiking, trail running, mountain biking are the new sports game.

    How many towns have you seen become revitalized recently that didn’t include a strong outdoor component? Going to Hot Springs, sitting in a hotel room and venturing out only for the horse races is not as popular as many believe. Most got to Oaklawn on a day visit which does nothing for hotels and restaurants in the area.

    My $0.02

  3. Jackie says:

    Hot springs is a cleaned up Beale st. Produce it as such! Focus on raceing and everything it has to offer!

  4. rochelle sherman says:

    What a great article….I lived in Hot Springs until 1959 I was brought up there in the forties and fifties. My father was an auctioneer there in the forties and fifties. I knew Owney Madden, the owner of The Southern Club on Central Avenue., went to all the gambling establishments in Hot Springs. I truly hope Hot Springs wakes up and can again return itself to the Glory it once was.It certainly was such a unique city when I lived there…..makes me sad to remember…..Shel <3

  5. lets do this says:

    I loved it great read and great you are bringing this out into light sad we cannot find a tax for renovations like this as we have for other things. We could save this as a town project or something there is wealth here in our town and functions can be done. So many things to list could be done to save this part of town.

  6. Paul says:

    The local leaders in this town are the problem and have always been out problem . Dallas money has been here for over 20 years , they own the boat slips at the lake, condos on the lake.. HSV is predominately all texans . You can not deny that there are a few ” town leaders” that are greedy and will only change to their benefit, and until them and their minions are gone , you simply can not expect outside investment. Hot springs could of been ” Branson” …. It had the offers to be ” Tunica” , this place has passed up so many chances that I bet many folks just figure that it’s a wasted debate. I have lived in this area most of my life and agree on its potential , but I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel of business ignorance here. Unemployment here is high, crime is in the rise , and the city loses events each year that are needed to bring in income. The city caters to low income areas across the south and Chicago to bring in visitors on bus tours in hopes to look diversified . It is ridiculous .

  7. Lucy Moore says:

    Check out Abandoned Arkansas on the
    Net. There are many pictures of the
    Majestic that will make you sick. It’s
    horrible inside. The original owner had
    let it run down before it closed. I used to
    go take the baths there for years and
    could see the decline. When Arc Arkansas
    tried to redo my husbands company bid
    on cabinet work. He toured the building
    He said it was awful then and it hadn’t been
    closed that long. Two other investors have
    said they were going to make it grand again.
    Nothing happened and now the building
    is up for sale. I’m all for saving historical
    buildings but sometimes it’s just not goi g
    to happen. I drive by the Majestic every day
    and was so disgusted to see them boarding
    up the windows, but they had to because
    kids were getting in there as well as homeless.
    It needs to be condemned or its going
    To fall down and hurt someone.

  8. Lisa says:

    I’ve lived in Arkansas for 12 years, visited Hot Springs though and I have seen the decay of which your article speaks. I’ve also lived all over the world and have seen areas similar to there, as well as very success renovation/restoration to downtown areas that were quite successful. The thing is for an urban project, you can’t say ‘wow, there’s great streams, trails fishing and whatnot. That will just not appeal to some you need to look at areas like Austin, TX or Pearl St. in Boulder, CO. They are 2 good examples, to me of how Hot Springs redo could look. Great article! Lots to do, but that old town is so worth it!!

  9. Morty says:

    I think the problem is a fairly simple one. Investors started backing out of luxury upgrades when the economy took a downturn in 2006-2007. Then the city elected fundamentalist leaders who were then and remain opposed to any “sinful” development. Read into the story of how the mayor tried every trick in the book to stop one of the only successful new developments downtown, a microbrewery, but couldn’t because it’s on federal, not city property. The fact that certain influential families who own all of the downtown properties are content to miser away their holdings is the nail in the coffin.

  10. Tracy Roberts says:

    I agree with most of your beliefs about Hot Springs and the opportunities for the downtown area. My family owns 12 properties on Central Avenue and we will not put any money into downtown because of the city and our wonderful historic district board (made up of starving artist). We have tried to preserve the old southern club back to its original neon etc. but the historical commission finds this to not be historical (really!). As far as Steve Arrison, he only promotes Oaklawn and Magic Springs and has quit advertising in the Dallas and Houston market. Again, I agree with downtown having a huge potential but it will take getting rid of the historical commission that has ran many investors from downtown and getting the A and P taxes away from Oaklawn!

  11. Lisa says:

    Thank you for this article, Rex. My father managed the Majestic from 1954 to 1982 & we lived in a house right behind the hotel, so I grew up there. We recently moved back to this area & it has saddened me greatly to see what has happened to what was once an incredibly beautiful historic hotel. I hope your points will hit home with the people who have the influence & initiative to make the changes that need to happen.

  12. Laura Vaughan says:

    Great article, Rex!

  13. Paul says:

    Rex, I don’t want to be one that complains with nothing to offer to help. The city and state need to finish a 20 year old promise and connect the bypass to 7 north (build a bridge over the spring) and u had the $$ , where did it go?
    Clean the crack houses in the 1/4 mi area of bath house up and hold all land lords accountable for housing them. They know who they are renting to. Reclaim the properties that are not in code and are a hazard. Start enforcing codes that reflect 2014. Many places give incentives to come . You ever wonder why a city this size doesn’t have many of the retail and hospitality choices that other similar cities do ? This can happen but , the old business mentality will have to change. The baby boomers are not ppl who understand closing your auto shops etc… At noon on Saturday . Texans moving here expect more and should because other cities that hot springs compete with are doing what it takes.

  14. Cal Wasson says:

    There’a enough idle capitol in town to put a glassed dome over downtown and gilt the streets. Tourism is up but out big deal self-proclaimed “entrepreneurs” piddle with their stocks and hedge funds. There are some solid and promsing plans for the area including one great sounding one based on $125k rante condos. But this would involved risk and our local money detests risk except when lecturing the poor. Prior plans for the Majestic collapsed when so-called developers couldn’t get federal $$.
    We have a good new city manager with plans for the area. We’ll see.

  15. Dan Trantham says:

    A couple notes:
    1) and most important, change the name Hot Springs to any number of other cities like Fort Smith, Tupelo, Laramie WY, or Sandpoint ID and the same article can be written. So investor dollars have a lot of options…so why Hot Springs?

    2) and a follow-on to #1, investors/developers are businessmen and women. They spend money on projects that generate customers that generate profit that ultimately generate an ROI. So would you rather spend money on a sure-deal Hampton Inn franchise on 7South or spend double the money on something nostalgic and romantic but not a sure deal? If anything, investors will let some other schmuck spend their money rehabbing those old buildings and then swoop in with pennies on the dollar after that dummy has gone bankrupt.

    3) one word: gambling. It’s ignorant that Oaklawn has a corner on that market. Get out the vote.

    4) I grew up in the Spa. I lived there from 1974 until 1991. I will never live there again. Not for any particular reason other than a lack of my work. But most of my clients are oil and gas companies…of which Hot Springs isn’t a mecca of drilling activity. That being said, Hot Springs isn’t dead. But your post seems really apocalyptic. Come to Fort Smith if you want to feel sad. Not every town can have some billionaires underwrite the comeback like Oklahoma City, Bentonville, or Austin. Hot Springs is doing just fine comparatively.

    5) Ms. Robert’s post is interesting. The starving artists scenario seems all too common. They are dreamers and romantics. Good for them. Every culture needs that spirit. But, an artist commune makes no dollars; and conversely, dollars gained in commerce can support those artists. It sounds like any other progressive mindset. Someone has to pay the piper…

  16. Hannah Pricer says:

    Those “artist” create and drive business downtown. It would be a bunch of sad crappy tourist shops if they weren’t there. Maybe people should work together as a community instead of blaming each other.

  17. joy jamisom says:

    The Hot Springs I grew up was an exciting destination where folks from from all over the world to vacation. Then the gaming tables were shut down; I assume the powers that were at the time thought the baths were the end all, be all. I rest my case.

  18. LCP says:

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

    Fix that, and you’ve solved the problem. And make no mistake, full-on casino gambling will come to Arkansas, and likely sooner than later. It’s inevitable. Hot Springs should take the lead in seeing that it happens downtown. Sadly, I’m afraid it won’t.

    My two cents.

  19. HOT SPRINGS. your salvation is in your name. It’s what people came for in the beginning. It started out as Indians gathering around the water. It sustained you through the Great Depression. Is has brought vistors from all over the world. Yet you have wonderful beautiful buildings that are in shambles. Reclamation of those buildings is a simple fix, yet nobody has tried. You want to take your namesake bath houses and convert them into gift shops. That is a sad joke. Libby Memorial Bath House in its last years was run by selfish fools, yet in its last years, made close to a million dollars a year for a small lease and a pitance for hot, spring water. It was taken away because the leasee didn’t take care of it. There should be a boom of people using the water. A little plumbing. Some antique restoration. A few modern aminities. A little international advertising and BOOM. And that’s year round BOOM. LR and Dallas people are literally dieing for a place to relax, get a massage, go for a stroll. Sidewalk artists and music. Who wouldn’t want to go there. Lawyers, money managers, who wouldn’t want to invest there. Artists, who wouldn’t want to live there. It all stars with THE HOT SPRINGS WATER BATH HOUSES.

  20. Ken says:

    Interested in hearing from someone who put all he had into one of those buildings?
    In 2010, we spruced up the gorgeous Simon Mendel building on the 400 block of Central ave. My wife and I created the classy Vienna Theatre (voted Best Entertainment Venue of 2012), complete with the original painted walk of 1910. For three years, I and other entertainers offered high quality shows that garnered the highest ratings (see TripAdvisor). But alas, after three years, we had to close. In other words, ‘build it and they will come’ isn’t the end-all-solve-all. Tracy R offered one reason- the race track and convention center need to be team players. Congrats that they’re doing well (along with bars, hotels, and eateries). But we’ll see more plywood and t-shirt shops until the ‘tourism winners’ and locals truly go all out to save Historic Downtown.
    Today, where the award-winning Vienna Theatre was, you’ll find a t-shirt shop (lewd in some cases, as locals might remember from the news). In said shop, the old 1910 wall is covered with boards from which cheap shirts hang.
    It’s not because someone didn’t try to revitalize an old building.

  21. rollicky says:

    the town and its peoples are both morally bankrupted as the downtown section of hot springs. All one hear is what there was, let’s get federal funds, etc. Gambling is against the law in the state yet there is a place operating openly in hot springs of which the people of arkansas have never voted to approve, etc.

  22. adman says:


    A bill to allow racing at Oaklawn went before the state legislature in 1929 and passed, making it legal. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the law to allow electronic games of skill in 2005, making it legal. Expanded gaming went before the voters in 2006 and passed, making it legal. Not liking the outcome of something isn’t the same as it being illegal.

  23. Larry says:

    Where are our Native American friends? Build a casino for goodness sake. The govt isn’t going to help. We need to quit counting on them.

  24. Charlotte says:

    Make the bath houses litle casinos!

  25. Michael says:

    I was born in hot springs, and save for about 7 cumulative years, have lived here my entire life…My mom and dad both worked downtown when i was little, hell i remember my mom working at the vapors 🙂 Soooo many places either downtown, or elsewhere in the city are in such poor shape, I KNOW there’s money here, but there is also the poverty side…you see so many homeless people here, my fiancee actually ran into a childhood friend of hers a couple of months ago, she and her bf were out with the cardboard signs asking for help, but they weren’t downtown, they were all the way up by burger king on central…and every time you go into town you are bound to see them. Development has been going on here, with the commercial expansion on higdon ferry, which prompted the street to being widened to four lanes and greatly helped traffic, but other areas need help BADLY. I have heard many things while living here that got me hopeful that this town wouldn’t completely go down the tubes, rumors of casinos going up on central in the vicinity of the the abandoned Wal-Mart…by the way that Wal-Mart has been abandoned/boarded up since the mid 90’s if i remember right. don’t get me wrong the city has expanded much in the past 60 years, you can actually see in the architecture if you drive downtown and continue down central. Its really sad how this city is, I have tried getting away from it several times, but somehow always end up back here…its bad enough to where I don’t want my kids growing up here, there really isn’t very much to do outside of going to lake, magic springs, or the race track…mind you those are all either summer or very early spring attractions, after that there are LOTS of restaurants…but mind you this is coming from someone who lives here, i hear on the radio all the time about how great the shopping is, the downtown eateries, yea its all there…but to many who live here this town is a joke…the mall is laughable, as in most people would rather go shop in little rock than do any serious shopping in that mall…Now for the good points about this city: it is physically beautiful, it sits in one of the most unique geological settings in the country. As far as I know it is the ONLY mountain range that runs east to west, not north to south. The hiking/bike trails are amazing, the lakes are gorgeous, and the views to be had from ANY of the mountains are all breathtaking, ( this is capitalized on my the mountain tower, I highly recommend taking a stroll up to it and just take in the countryside…it is just awesome). there ARE seasonal events here that bring people/money in with them, the hog rally, the corvette rally, the christmas lights, and much more having to do with events at the convention center. The climate is great year round, though we can have some rather cold winters, but not nearly as bad as northern states, it only snows 2 or 3 times a year at best, and even with this part of arkansas technically being in tornado ally depending on whom you ask, tornados are a rarity here. This town could have SOOO much going for it, and don’t let the census sign fool you, it may say 37,450ish, but FAR more than that (probably closer to 80k to 100k) either live outside of city limits but use the city, or commute from very far off to work here, (I have had co-workers that commuted from as far off as Benton). If you need proof that people do this just go down albert pike and attempt to cross the bride over lake hamilton around 4pm everyday, you will be met by a line of cars traveling out of town…

  26. Mark Chapel says:

    A city cannot simply build luxury hotels and renovate historic properties and expect visitors to arrive in droves. There has to be a compelling reason to come to Hot Springs rather than some other destination — and nostalgia is not that compelling. What can we offer that is unique?

    In the old days, Hot Springs had the baths and gambling — two attractions not readily available in the rest of the country. Today, we know that the baths have few real health benefits, and Arkansas is ringed with states that offer a variety of gaming venues, so the baths and gambling will not cut it. Neither will lakes and hiking. People are more mobile today and can just as easily travel to oceans and beaches.

  27. les surfas says:

    Why doesn’t anyone ever refer to the preservation my family and I have done on the old HAMP WILLIAMS Building. We took a 55,000 SF building that had been vacant for the most part for 60 plus years and renovated to the point you would never know that it is now structurally sound with all new amenities with tenants like The Culinary District and some of the finest tenants the State has to offer. It is 90% occupied. Because for the most part locals do not support the positive accomplishments. Hot springs has a mayor that is against tourism and local government that chases away more business than they can attract.

    I tired to bring a $55,000,000.00 development plan to re do all of downtown Hot Springs. I certainly had the right vision with the help of one of the finest and most respected Historical Preservation developers in the entire Country to improve the entire area. Not one building at a time. Too many obstacles and no one helping.

    Les Surfas and Family.

  28. Tracy Roberts says:

    Why did the investor back out? If HFE would have invested in Hot Springs, this town would be booming again.

  29. Rolanda Hurst says:

    I have read the reviews and many of you have some interesting ideas. As a traveling nurse, I have lived in many communities and the downtown areas that are successful have NIGHT LIFE. We need some rooftop al fresco dining. Look at the success of the new restaurant Cache in Little Rock for ideas because that have got it going on! Visit communities such as Sunnyvale, California which has the Starlight Ballroom, Los Gatos, or Saratoga, Ca. with it’s quaint restaurants. The public has such an interest in ballroom now, and it brings all generations together. We need community. There are supper clubs and buffets at cocktail hour followed by dance classes all around Silicon Valley. It works! One good restaurant and a brewery is not enough.Young people returning from college would appreciate a cool place to go and dance, hear great music. Low Key Arts if assisted could be like Deep Ellum in Dallas. People like to bar and restaurant hop to an appetizer here, a dinner there, some dancing, then a coffee and dessert or cocktail and live music in another interesting place. Austin and Dallas, are great places to look for investors. Oklahoma City is another. I learned today there are 60 wineries in the that area so there must be some sophisticated palettes, and maybe some investors. Look to communities that enjoy fine dining, the foodies, and gourmands, open a Sommelier or culinary academy, a cooking stadium, host more cooking contests, medical continuing education conferences. Host a large food and wine event of the South featuring wineries in the south central region and gourmet food vendors and screen an outdoor film near Central Park Fusion projected on the mountain about Hot Springs colorful hay day. What about a company that takes one on an upscale tour (not cheesey) of Hot Springs, a cruise on the lake, followed by dancing, perhaps a nightclub on a rooftop with the atmosphere like the Stark Club in Dallas in the 80’s. Promote the Park Hotel more. I heard a fabulous concert there once, lot’s of potential there. We also need a shuttle company that could take one from the hotels to the culinary district, to Oaklawn Park, Garvin Gardens, The Mid America Science Museum or to The Clinton Library. I envision Hot Springs and Little Rock becoming one metroplex much like Dallas-Fort Worth. I heard today that downtown Little Rock hotels are 70% full and that a major conference turned them down until they built more hotels. There is potential here people. Let’s tempt some investors and show them both Little Rock and Hot Springs and we can cross promote one another. There must be a convenient way to unify all the fantastic events and places we have and will have to offer so that people want to spend at least a week here to vacation and shop. Let’s host some extreme sporting events, have more concerts downtown rather than just at Magic Springs. Host an upscale fashion show like the one held during The Little Rock Film Festival. Finally, I’m not sure if it is possible, but when my mother first came to this country, and to Hot Springs, she suggested allowing Central Avenue to be filled with water, perhaps from the springs and have a riverwalk like San Antonio. I know that would be a challenge. It is just a thought, but if it could be dredged deep enough to be functional, it might work. If we could break that mind set of everyone living in their country club bubble, we might save the downtown. Open a Whole Foods or a gourmet market downtown. That will get them out of the burbs to shop. This community is stuck in a rut and needs to break free. Let’s all try looking for investors especially when we are on vacation. We have a jewel of a city. Let’s dream big! Start a movement to walk down bathouse row. Get off the couch, go see some cherry blossoms in the sunshine downtown, go have a spa day. Let’s start mother daughter days downtown and have teas, Have father son days, go on a hike on the trails to the gorge. Play tourist in your own town, it’s fun.

  30. Rolanda Hurst says:

    We need to create more life events downtown like Sunday picnics in Arlington Park with Tai Chi. We have beautiful parks with no one in them. Let’s stroll down bathouse row and make time for ourselves to have a SPA day. If we breathe daily life into the city, tourists will come. Let’s build a Whole Foods Market or something like it downtown.

  31. Greg Reddin says:

    I almost hate to mention it, being such an alternative transportation advocate, but no one has mentioned how hard it can be to get to Hot Springs. It’s a short drive from I-30 but it feels like you’re taking off into the backcountry. Perhaps a freeway spur would help?

  32. Chris says:

    What is Hot Springs missing? It’s quite simple, Downtown LR would never have been revitalized without a real estate company like Moses Tucker rallying investors and taking huge chances. The question is are there like minded business men in the Hot Springs area willing to do the same? If the projects are organized on a local level they can reach out to out of State investors to get them funded. You can’t expect Texans to take care of Arkansas, the works got to be done here first.

  33. Lynn says:

    There is a photographer (Walter Arnold) that came to town just to photograph Hot Springs. Unfortunately, his focus is the “Art of Abandonment”. Follow this link:
    to see what Her Majesty, The Majestic looks like from the inside out.

  34. Martin Eisele says:

    My family has called HS home for 120+ years. My Dad was part of the Economic Development Commission that tried to keep a vision for HS before and after gambling. People worked together to create a plan. Now. talk to the owners of these buildings and the lessees who run the businesses. Supposedly the money is there, but all I hear is that no one can get along or agree on either a vision or their vision gets blocked by someone selfish. I know someone who was interested in buying the Medical Arts Building last year, met with the owner, but decided against it because the owner of the parking lot next to it (who also owns the Ducks) wanted something entirely unreasonable. (Ironic, in a business sense.) So the MAB lays still dying because someone is more interested in what’s in it for him. Thanks to the people who are investing and running businesses, but see above: “My family owns 12 properties downtown and will not put any money into it because”…it’s the Historical Commission’s fault. I have heard stories about the mayor and the desire get rid of gambling (that’s so 1960’s). Gambling is a sin so let’s shut down the whole town. The Arlington is dying. I have friends who will no longer stay there, and that reflects on the whole town. The Park controls the water like a crime boss, so potential hotel renovations are lost since they can’t have their own baths. There’s so much cross-blaming, it’s ridiculous. Or maybe it’s the fact that the biggest potential for recreating HS come from people willing to invest but would never live there. There’s no love or connection to its history. Back in the day, the people who invested and had a vision for HS had been there most of their lives. It’s a shame that the Feds, the State, the City, the Historical Comm., the property owners, the potential investors, the track, and the banks can’t get together and come up with a vision, a plan, some grants and some true interest in saving a city. ‘Cause, you know, “that guy over there is stopping progress.”

  35. Joan says:

    Hot Springs needs to be drug out of the dark ages. Hardly anything is open on Sundays and even during the week, there’s no night life. Just about everything is closed by 6 or 9. The mall is a joke. Too much focus on the older generations, not enough focus on the younger crowd. It seems like this place has lost so much appeal just in the last 5 years.

  36. lynn holoch says:

    Great job Rex..Pulitzer material.. Stay with it..

  37. Ed. Elliott says:

    I can recall standing in the doorway of the Ohio Club when I was 17. Standing on a soft drink carton pulling the slot machines at the bus station. It was really booming back then. The streets were jammed with people from everywhere and for a lad from Clark County…the neon lights were the show!

  38. lynn holoch says:

    Joan….jokes are usually funny our mall is sad…just like downtown, Park Ave, Albert Pike, East Grand….It’s gonna be a long wait for outside $$$$.

  39. michael simons says:

    This is nothing new. Tom Mull long time Arkansas Game and Fish Man left his Familys Pre CW era Home the Mull House to the State in the 1950s and the State let it ROT to the Ground. The State done better since the 1990’s but it could do way better and a Private Public Parntership in HS would be a smart move. Look at the Stock yards in Fort Worth TX they were once a dump and now are the crown jewel for the City of Fort Worth.

  40. Lynda & Ray Narug says:

    Subject: Re: Emailing: February « 2014 « Rex Nelson’s Southern Fried.htm sssss

    We drove by the Majestic Sunday, on the way to the convention center where Ray played in the bands for BandBlast.
    BUT, what a horrible sight to see the Majestic now boarded up, it will sit that way for years. HS is a decaying remnant of their once glorious days, so like other small towns across the U.S. The Interstates by-pass them and tourists only come to town now for the races or an occasional visit to the decaying bath houses.
    After the concert we used a gift card for the Porterhouse restaurant, never had been there before. It was obviously at one time a grand restaurant, but when I say At One Time, that is not just figuratively speaking, the restaurant has seen better days. Good food, but lots of other places have good food south on Central mainly. Considering the Porterhouse food prices, we will go south on Central when not using a gift card.
    If the city movers and shakers think the track, Convention Center events and St. Pat’s parade will carry the city into them well into the 21st Century, they are so wrong.

    But the politicians of HS, AR and DC are too busy fighting amongst themselves to care about anything involving the betterment of society, but only about winning the next election, and the next, and the next.

  41. Tracy Roberts says:

    Martin. Would you sell a parking lot for 1/3 what you paid for it? If a real investor was looking at the medical arts they would at least check to see what the adjacent parking lot was purchased for less than 11 years ago. We will eventually get someone interested with the money that it would take to make downtown what it should be! Nice stab without the facts.

  42. Marty says:

    Why don’t you speak to some property owners before you spout out your biased info. Things were moving along till 2008. Things were happening. Then came Oaklawns Games of Skill and their expansion. Oaklawn as a race track is a failure only gambling is spurring it along. Yet that gaming is what is draining the downtown of money. Even an idiot can see that. So I googled your name Rex along with Oaklawn and can see your blinding bias.
    Oaklawn runs the Chamber and the Chamber runs the City. They have nothing invested downtown but somehow have every thing to say about it. Their codes are subject to interpretation depending on who you know.
    You must be living in a vacuum to not know that gambling damages most local businesses. You are just another Eric Jackson Fan that can’t see past your nose. Do you really think people are that stupid.

  43. rexnelson says:

    Obviously, Marty, you are if you believe Oaklawn hurts rather than helps Hot Springs.

  44. Marty says:

    One more thing.
    If you look at the reprint of your article in the Sentinel Record you will see that after editing they only left the negative about downtown and the positive about Oaklawn and Steve Arrisson.

    You now have a first hand experience of being manipulated to their end.
    Does it feel good? WE deal with this every day.

    Malinda Gassaway (Editor) and Eric Jackson are related.
    The culprits to the demise of downtown are “Eric Jackson”, the Chamber of Commerce and the A&P commission. Strangely enough the A&P is trying to spend $15,000,000.00 on a baseball field in the County. Yet wonders why no one will invest downtown. The S.Record will only print good things about Oaklawn and its cronnies. You appearing to be one of them as well.
    I must admit that you have sparked something here. In that vain “Good Job”

  45. rexnelson says:

    Seriously, I do appreciate the input, Marty. I am just trying to spark some discussion and debate.

  46. Alita Mantels says:

    Rex, you are to be commended for your two recent blogs (“The Shame of Hot Springs,” “The Three Rs for Downtown Hot Springs”) spotlighting issues and sparking debate related to the heartbreaking decline of Hot Springs’ historic downtown. Though I have lived in Little Rock for the past four decades, I often travel to Hot Springs – not for racing at Oaklawn but for special cultural events (e.g., the Hot Springs Jazz Society’s week-long, annual JazzFest held at various downtown venues in mid-September). Unlike many of my friends, I continue to stay at The Arlington (whose faded glory so badly needs to be restored by an investor with an understanding of the long-term profit to be made from historic preservation and maintenance of a luxury hotel which once rivaled The Capital in Little Rock). Invariably, I am saddened by the lack of cooperation among the Spa City’s elected officials, governmental agencies, educators, business interests, community leaders, and residents, many of whom exhibit little appreciation of (much less passion for) those unique aspects of Hot Springs’ history and geography which could be used to build an economically advantageous, educationally valid, aesthetically pleasing, environmentally responsible future for “The American Spa” in “The Natural State” as a welcoming, year-round vacation/staycation spot for Arkansans as well as tourists from other states/countries. (All too often, I hear Hot Springs residents/business owners complain to tourists about restrictions related to Hot Springs National Park, when its unique history and characteristics are what attracted those visitors in the first place. And I see too little support for those individual residents/community organizations trying hardest to showcase the city’s best features or eliminate those which offend/alienate many visitors.)

    It seems that partisan politics, fundamentalist/evangelical religious beliefs, and myopic self-interest on the part of some city leaders have prevented implementation of an effective strategic plan which would attract the kind of investors needed to restore and renovate downtown Hot Springs as a unique destination attractive to various types of tourists and offering (within walking distance) the continent’s grandest collection of bathhouses, the nation’s first federal reserve/smallest national park, historic hotels, and world-famous spas along with a variety of restaurants, performance venues, and art galleries as well as diverse activities (hiking on nature trails in Hot Springs National Park, tours of Bathhouse Row National Historic Landmark District, traditional bath at Buckstaff Bathhouse, modern spa experience at Quapaw Baths & Spa, ballroom dancing to the Stardust Big Band in The Arlington’s Crystal Ballroom, St. Pat’s Day parade in March, blues festival in August, jazz festival in September, film festival in October).

    During the past several decades, Little Rock residents have seen how much ongoing collaboration (spearheaded by forward-thinking political leaders and private investors, not to mention the Central Arkansas Library System and nonprofits like Heifer International) has been required to increase tourism and boost the local economy by creating the River Market district, building the Clinton Presidential Center, and revitalizing adjacent downtown areas. Without some of the capital city’s resources and advantages, Hot Springs has an even greater need for such visionary, collaborative efforts in support of a shared mission. (Hot Springs’ city leaders might benefit from some of North Little Rock’s recent experiences in revitalizing its historic Argenta District.)

  47. Marty says:

    Well Rex you certainly have sparked something here. So why don’t you do a little more and investigate how City Directors legal expenses are paid for by Oaklawn. How Oaklawn sends hundreds of VIP passes to city directors and heads of departments via mail and through the city manager. Yet none declare these gifts and always vote in favor of Oaklawn requests. This is know as Municipal Corruption. While downtown should be booming these people keep it small because they have another agenda. What that may be no one knows but them. So blatant is this kind of stuff that it looks normal for Hot Springs. At one time I thought it was stupidity but it is way deeper than that. One city director has now decided to run for State Treasurer. Heaven help us all.

  48. Ruth Carney says:

    I find it very amusing that people are making comments about the “mayor” that are absolutely untrue. Don’t know where you are getting your information but you should probably change your sources. Check with Josie Feenandez to see if I “used every trick in the book” to keep the microbrewery from happening. I did absolutely nothing to stop it! And for Les Surfas, Do you know me? Shall we get together for lunch or just meet me at City Hall to discuss my views on Tourism? Evidently you believe everything you read in the “let’s get rid of Ruth Carney” press releases. I would love to have a conversation with you about my views on economic growth and development. Please call my cell. 501-276-1038.

  49. adman says:

    The Majestic Hotel is currently burning to the ground.

  50. frank on the hill says:

    if governor rockefeller were still alive, he would send the state police into oaklawn park and destroy those “games of skill” with sledge hammers just as he did in the 60’s. what’s going on over there is out and out gambling and somehow those people have a monopoly on it. why not call it what it is, GAMBLING, and let everyone in on the action? how can our elected officials be so stupid as to agree that these gambling machines are “games of skill”?

  51. 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?

  52. 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!!

  53. 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
    Magic Springs
    Some crazy rock place for jeeps
    Mall- We have big malls and I like the mall in Hot Springs just fine.
    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,, 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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….

  56. 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
    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.

  57. Seth says:

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

  58. 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!

  59. 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.

  60. 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?

  61. 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.

  62. 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!
    BE NICE!

  63. John Girolamo says:

    So far 83 for gambling downtown and 3 against.

  64. 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?

  65. rexnelson says:

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

  66. 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.

  67. 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.”

  68. 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!

  69. rexnelson says:

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

  70. John Girolamo says:

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


  71. 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.

  72. rexnelson says:

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

  73. 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.

  74. 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?

  75. 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 !

  76. Pat Goff says:

    I so agree. We need to save our historic buildings. They can never be replaced. The visitors will be out of state and in state. Can you imagine people coming and saying my grandparents stayed here, had an anniversary dinner here, lived in this building etc. It is history that can never be replaced. If Europe can save their historic buildings that are thousands of years old and find uses for them why can’t we find used for buildings that are only hundreds of years old. Laziness I tell you. Nobody has pride in their history or work anymore. Everybody thinks everything should be modernized what about having the pride of owning a part of history.

  77. SAMMY PASHA says:

    I stayed at The Majestic hotel whist filming The White River
    ” The White River Kid ”

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