HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (KTHV) - Most American cities regard their downtown areas as their heart. Hot Springs’ heart was broken after the Majestic fire in 2014. Now, the city is being compared to a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Thursday, May 3rd, the Hot Springs Chamber unveiled the 100th business downtown to open since the Majestic fire: The Vault restaurant.
“The Majestic fire was absolutely a turning point in the history of downtown Hot Springs,” said Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce VP of Economic Development, Cole McCaskill.
It was after the century-old abandoned hotel turned to ashes that a real focus was put on preserving what history was left in Hot Springs.
“There’s a great sense of permanence and pride,” explained Vault GM, Randy Womack. “There’s a whole new fresh perspective on what it is to be in Downtown Hot Springs.”
Womack calls the unveiling serendipitous.
“The lights are from the old park hotel. Of course they were in a state of disrepair and needed a great home,” he said.
He's bringing together the worlds of old and new into his new role, much like what was done at the Waters hotel down Central Avenue, another recently opened business.
“We are starting to see a lot of people coming from out of state. Hot Springs has become a real big tourist destination,” explained Waters hotel owner, Bob Kempkes. “Our spring break season is probably bigger than it’s been this year. It’s nice to see. A lot of that stems from having more to offer visitors.”
“People that are coming to visit that haven’t been here in one year or four years, they’re just remarking that it’s such a different experience and a different place,” McCaskill said.
McCaskill said about 70% of downtown businesses were occupied before the Majestic fire. Now, he puts that number close to 100%.
“In addition to 100 new businesses, we’ve also seen 82 of these commercial buildings bought and sold since the Majestic fire, and we’ve seen over $80 million reinvested into downtown Hot Springs,” he said.
A lot of the credit for the turn around is being given to Congressman Bruce Westerman, who was on-hand for the event.
“It’s just a good day for Hot Springs and a good day for Arkansas,” the Congressman said.
He was integral in saving the historic preservation tax credit program that was on the chopping block last year, a program that many downtown businesses developers relied upon to be able to pay for these big projects.
“I wanted to keep those historic tax credits so we could see more development, so we could see more jobs. This is not just a development for one building, but it draws people in and it means business for other establishments across Central Avenue,” Westerman said.
In today’s political climate, this is a much needed example of Washington working for the folks back home.
“You really do see a direct correlation between policy creating good things. That’s what we want. We don’t want unintended consequences of policy creating bad things,” said Senator John Boozman.yes
Even more businesses are in the works, but a lot of attention is now turning to the upstairs of the historic properties, turning that vacant space into apartments, hotels and offices.