Hot Springs Reconsidered (Editorial)

This issue of Arkansas Business carries an abundance of interesting news about commercial real estate in Arkansas: Conway is looking to be reshaped through a retail project that could reach the $100 million mark, Bentonville city leaders and developers are emphasizing the small-town, “Norman Rockwell” feel of that city’s downtown, and Hot Springs — oh, how we love your louche beauty — has the chance to turn around a tragedy, the loss of the 100-year-old-plus Majestic Hotel to fire.

As Assistant Editor Luke Jones reports, even before February’s fire the city of Hot Springs had enacted a new fire code for downtown. The code requires building owners to have fire sprinklers on each floor, a safety feature that has been missing. Without the improvements, the entire downtown is at risk of fiery devastation.

Many buildings downtown have tenants in the lower floors but their upper floors are vacant and the properties are decaying. City leaders and preservationists hope that property owners will take advantage of the new code requirements to redevelop their buildings or, as Jim Fram, CEO of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce, said, “market those buildings to somebody else who can make an investment to redevelop them.”

In addition, two groups in Hot Springs are collecting information on downtown properties that could be used to market them to developers or even new buyers, and business leaders plan to hold public meetings to discuss different visions for downtown development.

Out of a terrible fire has come an opportunity for Hot Springs to recommit to an effort to preserve and enhance the city’s great natural and architectural beauty. Now it’s up to the city to take advantage of that opportunity, for the benefit of all Arkansans.