Hot Springs should immediately start to revitalize its downtown by hiring a full-time downtown economic development director and creating a private investment fund for the area, a new report by community leaders says.
Longer term goals include creating a tax revenue source to pay for voter-approved downtown infrastructure projects, identifying a location for outdoor community events, building a performing arts center, creating an open air public thermal water pool, and developing the area around President Bill Clinton’s boyhood home.
The recommendations were included in a report by the Downtown Game Plan Task Force, a group of community members that has been meeting since a fire destroyed the historic Majestic Hotel Feb. 27.
The fire inspired the community to reconsider parts of a strategic plan developed by a consultant in 2011 that largely had been sitting on a shelf, according to Jim Fram, president and CEO of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Hot Springs Metro Partnership.
The task force released its report during an outdoor press event Wednesday. Fram pointed out it was occurring as Regions Bank across the street was tearing down its bank building to be replaced by a new structure.
Bryan Smith, chairman of the Metro Partnership, said in an interview that the Majestic Hotel fire had helped close a communication gap that had grown within parts of the city. The hotel was considered by many to reflect the city’s heyday.
“What the fire did was it actually brought a lot of people together,” he said. “When that happened, you saw a lot of people that were disappointed, that were hurt. You know, that was a landmark, and it really brought people together to start discussing, ‘OK, what do we need to do because we don’t want this to happen to any of our other structures downtown.”
The task force held public hearings and conducted an online survey of community members before releasing its report. An April public meeting featured comments from Mayor Robert McCaslin of Bentonville, El Dorado developer Richard Mason, and Conway Chamber of Commerce President Brad Lacey.
Other immediate action items in the task force’s plan include formalizing the relationship between the Hot Springs Metro Partnership and the Hot Springs Downtown Initiative, creating a new fire district in downtown Hot Springs, pursuing federal and state government dollars to prevent future disasters, increasing programs and funding for the Hot Springs National Park through the National Park Service, and holding regularly scheduled forums for downtown property owners and tenants.