The Hot Springs lot where the former Majestic Hotel once stood remains empty, its future uncertain.
After the once-famous hotel was destroyed by fire seven years ago, the city of Hot Springs selected developers in 2020 to construct a large-scale, high-end resort hotel on the north end of the city’s historic Bathhouse Row where the Majestic once stood. The development would include a spa, dining, retail and public space as well as access to the city’s thermal waters, according to Hot Springs Deputy City Manager Lance Spicer.
Despite these grand plans, the site shows no signs of any construction activity. One of the developers told the city Board of Directors earlier this month that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get access to capital, according to Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe.
The city board directed the development group, Grand Point Investments of Hot Springs and Cienda Partners of Dallas, to meet with Crews & Associates, the city’s investment advisors, about the project’s finances before the city determines whether to grant the developers more time to get started on the project.
When the city selected the development group, the group was given 90 days to present their general ideas for the project, but that period expired in November and, McCabe said, they have asked for a 6-month extension.
The city held a work session with the developers over Zoom on March 9 to learn about the developers’ plans for the property, like whether they intend to lease or purchase the property from the city, the mayor said.
“I, for one, was disappointed that more progress wasn’t made in this regard,” McCabe said. “The level of detail that was being asked for during that 90-day period was at a 50,000-foot level, not at ground zero level. My thought is there should have been further progress made.”
Matt Deuschle of Grand Point Investments declined to comment to the Arkansas Times at this time, saying it would be “inappropriate to comment while we’re still negotiating with the city.”
McCabe said the city will meet again in a couple of weeks to determine the next steps that could include granting the extension to the developers or issuing a new request for proposals. McCabe said the current developers could submit a new bid through a new RFP process, in which new developers could submit as well.
“There are other developers that are watching this and remain interested and, for one reason or another, they were unable to submit a qualifying response to the RFP (previously),” McCabe said.
Built in 1882, the Majestic Hotel became one of the most famous hotels in the South with 150 rooms, thermal spas and an assortment of famous guests. The five-acre site, which sits empty today, once boasted guests that included baseball legend Babe Ruth. The hotel once hosted the wedding of Budweiser owner August Anheuser Busch Jr. and his famous Clydesdale horses who were stabled in the hotel’s garage, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
The hotel expanded amid popularity in the 1920s and 1960s, but, by the 1980s, the property withered due to highway rerouting and the absence of the city’s once bustling illegal gambling scene, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The hotel closed in 2006 and plans for renovation never came to fruition as the building deteriorated.
On February 27, 2014, a large portion of the hotel was destroyed in a large fire and the rest of the hotel was later condemned by the city of Hot Springs.
Before the fire, the city struggled to keep the large, vacant hotel and property boarded and secure once the owner stopped keeping a security guard on the premises, according to Spicer.
“You could surmise that was going to happen, just because we were always getting complaints of people being on the property, in the structure and things of that nature,” Spicer said.
In 2015, the city demolished what remained of the hotel and purchased the property for $685,000.
The city spent the next five years cleaning the property, researching the best uses of the property and issuing requests for proposals for redevelopment, establishing four guiding values to direct that redevelopment:
- Enhance economic opportunities
- Improve the quality of life and enhance the visitor experience
- Celebrate the natural wonder of the city’s thermal waters
- Respect the arts, culture and history of the city
A market study presented to the city last year showed that a thermal waters complex, a high-end hotel with 75-150 rooms or an upscale family-friendly hotel featuring thermal waters and space for the public would be viable in the location.
McCabe said nearby residents, who drove past rubble at the site for several years, have been patient with the city and that developing the site could create small business opportunities in the surrounding area.
“We continue to look for that to return to being the anchor it once was and to enhance the economic opportunity of that surrounding area as a result of the presence of (the development),” McCabe said. “We’re all in on developing that property. There’s nobody who is not stroking their oar in the same direction.”