HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Thousands of people saw fireworks on Lake Hamilton on July 4th, including hundreds who watched from the deck of a Hot Springs icon.
The riverboat called the "Belle of Hot Springs" is instantly recognizable, whether docked between two major bridges over the lake, or out on the water itself.
The owner of the vessel is counting on that as he puts it up for auction in August.
“It's an icon of Hot Springs,” said Joe Wilson, the president of his family-owned auctioneering company. “It's one of the number one tourist attractions in Hot Springs.”
The Belle is a throwback boat that, for about 20 years, has been the scene of life events for longtime Arkansans.
“We did our sunset cruise on the boat with fireworks and it was awesome,” said David Brewer, the listing agent for Wilson, referring to his wedding anniversary 11 years to the day earlier.
“Both of my daughters' wedding events were held on the Belle, so it's kind of special to us,” Wilson said, his face and voiced quickly linked to commercials for his company.
“We've sold a lot of unique things over the past 60 years. The Belle is certainly unique. You don't get the chance to sell a riverboat very often,” he said.
In addition to the boat, Wilson will separately auction off the lakefront real estate where the Belle is docked. That includes a restaurant space, a gift shop, and a parking lot.
The current owner, Rick Thacker, says he wants to dedicate his time to his trolley business in the city and the boat and restaurant are taking up a lot of time.
And Wilson and Brewer point out, the location and climate for real estate in Hot Springs make this prime selling time.
“This is not a distress situation,” Brewer said, noting that that is often when auctioneers get involved. “It's actually the opposite. Timing in Hot Springs with Oaklawn doing what they're doing with a new casino/hotel and with what's happening in the development in the city, it’s the right time.”
But the auctioneers can't control who shows up. The land and the boat will be sold separately and then hopefully packaged depending on the buyer, but depending on the developer, there's no guarantee the Belle stays anchored on Lake Hamilton.
“To me, personally living in Hot Springs being on this lake, I think it would be great if it continued to operate and stays here on Lake Hamilton,” Brewer said. “But it can definitely be moved to other lakes across the state or the country.”
Wilson and Brewer think perhaps getting the word out early could prompt a well-heeled developer to make an effort to keep the Belle in place, but Wilson can only assure everyone of what he will say that morning.
“I can tell you what's going to happen on auction day. I'm going to say ‘and I sold it, sold it, sold it,’” he said, referring to his trademark call to close bidding.
Information on the August 20 auction is at the Wilson’s website and includes phone numbers that explain requirements any potential bidders will need to meet.