HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) -- A small piece of green space along a busy street in Hot Springs is in for a major facelift.
The city hopes to solve three problems with one park along a bustling road leading into the city, and they also want to honor a former city leader who championed ideas like this.
“This is the neighborhood that Bill Clinton grew up in,” said Anthony Taylor, an architect with Taylor/Kempkes, designers of the forthcoming David F. Watkins Memorial Park.
”This is the neighborhood that was the entrance to town. Stagecoach road from Little Rock goes through here.”
Taylor pointed up and down Park Avenue. It’s a street with history and landmarks along its path from downtown Hot Springs northward out of the city. It’s also a street hit hard by blight and sorely needed renewal. At its base is the soon-to-be demolished Majestic Hotel. A half-mile up is the lot, wedged between a short-term motor inn and an abandoned Victorian-style house.
Former city director David Watkins, who died last year in an accidental fall at home, saw potential in spots like that lot.
"David had a dream if you will,” said Max Sestili, the city’s storm water manager. “He had a vision of revitalizing all the major entrance corridors into Hot Springs."
"One of the things he did was have the city condemn this motel here that had become a haven for crime and drugs,” said Taylor of the moves Watkins made before he died.
Once torn down, the city made the lot a park. There’s a station for cleaning up after dogs there now, but after Watkins died, city leaders had bigger plans. So Taylor designed a splash pad, a bridge, an amphitheater and a playground. A branch of the Hot Springs Creek runs right across the space.
Designers saw a chance to solve another problem that plagues downtown: flooding.
"The amphitheater that we're going to build in here is actually sunk into the ground and will double as kind of a detention area,” said Sestili. “When storm water comes flowing through here it will fill up and help keep that water retained just slightly before it gets to our major flood zones."
And solving more than one problem is one thing Taylor is sure Watkins would have wanted.
"We knew that this had to become a city park that he would have been proud of,” said Taylor.
The entire price tag will be around $400,000. The first parts of the project have just been opened up for bids from contractors.
Watkins’ family and friends have already helped with fundraising. For the planned bridge over the creek, Hot Springs turned to Kickstarter to come up with the money for that. Local civic groups are working on getting the playground built.
Once a bidder is selected, phase one should begin in October. Depending on the other funding projects, it should be completed within three years.