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From Bathhouse to Hotel, Hot Springs’ Hale to Be Reborn

5 min read

HOT SPRINGS — In the 32 years since they moved to Hot Springs, Pat and Ellen McCabe have seen the transformation of downtown Hot Springs. Now, with the couple’s repurposing of the Hale Bathhouse into a boutique hotel, they’ll be directly participating in that transformation.

Pat, the mayor of Hot Springs and president and CEO of Levi Hospital, and his wife, Ellen, are investing more than $1 million in the Hale, which, once the renovation is complete, will be marketed as the Hotel Hale. It will be the first and only boutique hotel in Hot Springs National Park, the National Park Service noted.

The majority of the Hale Bathhouse was built in 1892, making it the oldest of the bathhouses on the city’s famed Bathhouse Row. Once the Hale begins its new life as a hotel, only one of the eight bathhouses on the row will be vacant, the Maurice (see Hot Springs Sees Bathhouse Row Begin to Fill Up). The Park Service last month issued a request for proposals for a long-term lease of the Maurice.

“All of the bathhouses were built by the private sector with leases of the land from the federal government,” noted Josie Fernandez, superintendent of Hot Springs National Park. “It could be said that we’re going back to our roots” in partnering with the private sector to inject new life into the old buildings, adding that “the private sector is very important to us.”

The McCabes were scheduled to sign their lease for the Hale with the National Park Service last Friday, Founder’s Day, the 101st birthday of the Park Service, after Arkansas Business went to press. The signing comes more than three years after the couple announced their plans to bring new life to the bathhouse.

“To secure financing for a project that involves leasehold improvements on property not owned by the borrower is very challenging in today’s environment,” Pat McCabe said in explaining the delay. The couple “hit a snag” that required them to restart the process. “Arkansas Capital Corp. was always by our side, and we were delighted that Southern Bancorp joined the team,” he said of the project’s lenders.

The McCabes hope to have the Hotel Hale open by late January or early February 2018, in time for most of the racing season at Oaklawn.

Last week, the McCabes gave a tour of the Hale to a reporter, detailing their plans for the 12,000-SF, two-story structure, which was closed as a bathhouse on Oct. 31, 1978. Those plans include, in addition to the seven-room, two-suite hotel, two dining areas and event and meeting space. Their focus, Pat McCabe said, will be on destination weddings and small corporate retreats.

The original structure of the Hale, a red-brick building finished in 1892, was designed by George and Fremont Orff of Minneapolis, but it went through a couple of major redesigns in the ensuing years. In 1914, Little Rock architects George Mann and Eugene Stern enlarged the building and converted it to a Classical Revival structure. In 1939, the architectural firm Thompson Sanders & Ginocchio of Little Rock transformed it into a Mission Revival style, covering the brick with stucco.

Handsome period tile adorns the floors of the first floor. The hotel’s restaurant, Zest, will lie to the left of the marble counter that will serve as the hotel check-in desk. Ellen McCabe, who has a degree in home economics and foods and nutrition with a specialization in food service management, said Zest, which will seat 70, will offer “healthy but delicious” fare.

Beyond the check-in area toward the back of the bathhouse a massive skylight dominates the space, which will house a second dining area. That dining area will have a different menu and will be open on weekend nights, Sundays and special occasions. Pat McCabe described it as “upscale casual.”

The seven rooms and two suites of the hotel will be upstairs, where beautiful, large arched windows provide natural light. Each room will have access to the thermal waters of the park. The rooms will have different price points to accommodate different budgets.

Architects on the Hale project are Taylor Kempkes Architects of Hot Springs. The firm has been involved with a number of renovations of historic buildings in the city, including the Quapaw Baths, which was transformed into a day spa.

The couple expect to employ about 40. Ellen McCabe, who has owned her own restaurant, Ellen’s Cassoulet Café, in the past, will provide day-to-day management.

“We’re going to surround ourselves with good staff,” Pat McCabe said. “People are paying for a nice experience, and you’ve got to have a nice experience.”

Its location means the Hotel Hale could not have better visibility, and the McCabes are ready to exploit their prime location. “This has been a very long process, and for us to see everybody walk down Bathhouse Row and not being able to turn in to the Hale for the last two years has been frustrating,” Pat McCabe said. “We’re anxious to get going.”

Downtown Resurgence
The couple have seen a tremendous resurgence in downtown Hot Springs since they arrived in 1985. “When we moved here, you might as well have put a sign on the downtown, ‘Out of Business,’” Ellen McCabe said. “That might sound offensive to the people that did stick around.”

Pat McCabe added, “There’s always been some core, high-quality stores downtown,” citing as one example Lauray’s the Diamond Center.

Then, of course, in 2014 the Majestic Hotel burned down, but that prompted what Pat McCabe described as a major catalyst to economic development, the city’s creation of the Thermal Basin Fire District, which requires buildings of three floors or more to have fire-suppressing sprinklers.

“What turned out to be a historic preservation [measure] turned into an economic development one because the current owners of some of these buildings did not want to go forward with that expense and sold their buildings to people who would, and all of a sudden, this thing has just kind of taken off.”

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