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A A THERMAL POOL FOR HOT SPRINGS

42 MAY 2019

ARKANSAS TIMES

t the former Majestic Hotel site in Hot Springs, community nonprofit Fifty for the Future hopes to provide visitors to the national park with an answer to a persistent question: Where are the hot springs? According to the Hot Springs National Park website, approximately 700,000 gallons of hot spring water are collected each day in the park’s water reservoir, but the waters only emerge through a fault at the base of Hot Springs Mountain's western slope. Aside from several bathhouses and a few fountains in downtown Hot Springs, the namesake waters are hidden from the city’s landscape. Fifty for the Future’s vision for the Majestic site is a cascading series of thermal pools complete with a changing facility, picnic areas and access to neighboring nature trails. According to Clay Farrar, chair of Fifty for the Future’s Majestic Thermal Pool Redevelopment Committee, the nonprofit hopes the proposed pools would remedy the lack of accessible hot spring water by providing tourists and residents the opportunity to enjoy thermal pools year-round. While the organization will not fund the project, Farrar said it hopes a developer will “come along and take interest in it.” Founded in 1988, Fifty for the Future has over 100 members that work to raise funds for community progress, Farrar said. The nonprofit has been involved in the construction of the Hot Springs Convention Center, the Bank OZK Arena and the Exchange Street Parking Plaza. A 1992 feasibility study found there to be “very positive prospects” for a thermal pool complex, permitting its proper design, on Whittington Avenue, Farrar said. That should apply as well to the 5-acre Majestic Hotel property, which the city acquired after the hotel caught fire in February 2014. The city recently hosted two public planning sessions to narrow ideas and proposals for the site. Kansas State University’s Targeted Assistance to Brownfields program helped with the

planning sessions. The KSU program provides free technical assistance to communities with redevelopment efforts on former industrial or commercial sites where future use could be impacted by environmental contamination. Students at the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design will compile visual renderings of the ideas into a report to be presented to the city, which will form the basis for a request for proposals by the Hot Springs Board of Directors, according to the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record. “After the Majestic fire, and with the city now having the property available, we decided to push once again for a series of small cascading pools,” Farrar said. “The idea being that we weren’t sure what else was going to come along for the site, so we wanted to plant that flag as more of a conceptual thing.” In a video produced by Fifty for the Future and written and edited by 61 Celsius, a Hot Springs advertising agency, aerial footage of downtown Hot Springs smoothly transitions into peaceful shots of the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools in New Zealand, which Farrar said the nonprofit’s proposed thermal pools would resemble. Farrar was quick to caution that the proposed complex would not be a “municipal” pool, but rather one that would require a $30-$40 admission fee and could potentially be surrounded by food courts, an outdoor concert arena and retail stores. Farrar said the thermal pools complex meets the four “guiding values” issued by the Hot Springs Board of Directors for the redevelopment of the Majestic site, principles that are outlined in the nonprofit’s brochure on the project: “Enhance economic opportunities; Improve the local quality of life and enhance the visitor experience; Celebrate the natural wonder of our thermal water” and “Respect the arts, culture, and history of Hot Springs.” — Rebekah Hall

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