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Public input sessions set for Monday, Tuesday on Majestic

by David Showers | March 31, 2019 at 6:49 a.m.
The Sentinel-Record/Richard Rasmussen SUGGESTIONS WELCOME: Motorists drive past the site of the former Majestic Hotel March 5 at the intersection of Park, Whittington and Central avenues. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the property's future at April 1 and 2 planning sessions.

Public input sessions on Monday and Tuesday are intended to narrow the scattershot portfolio of ideas and suggestions for the Majestic Hotel site’s redevelopment into a strategy that can inform a request for proposals.

The sessions, which will be held Monday from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and Tuesday from noon to 2:30 p.m. in Rooms 203 and 204 of the Hot Springs Convention Center, are a requirement of the city’s participation in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Technical Assistance to Brownfields Program, Scott Nightingale of Kansas State University said in an email earlier this month.

KSU’s TAB program is contracted by the EPA to offer free assistance to communities faced with finding new purposes for properties burdened by legacies of blight and neglect. Nightingale said KSU provided similar assistance to Springfield, Mo., facilitating public forums on redeveloping a contaminated, abandoned rail yard donated to the city by BNSF Railroad.

He said a project status update will start the session. The update is likely to include an overview of how state regulators cleared the 5-acre Majestic property of environmental liabilities last year, certifying it as fit for redevelopment following the removal of 18 tons of lead-contaminated soil detected in subsurface and groundwater samples collected in 2017.

The Majestic Hotel, a complex of several historic buildings at the north end of downtown Hot Springs, closed in 2006. A February 2014 fire claimed the “yellow brick” hotel building in the complex that opened in 1902. The city acquired the property in 2015 after condemning it earlier that year. Demolition of the remaining structures, including the “red brick” hotel building that opened in 1926, was completed in late 2016.

Forum participants will be organized into brainstorming groups of eight to 10 people, presenting ideas students from the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture will translate into visual form. Mayor Pat McCabe told the National Park Rotary Club Wednesday that the students are already developing renderings based on ideas and suggestions the city has received.

Dozens of suggestions have been submitted via the city website, and civic groups and developers have also weighed in. VIPA Hospitality Management proposed a luxury hotel showcasing the property’s thermal waters, a design element prominent in many of the suggestions.

The city said earlier this month that the public will help rate and rank ideas emerging from the planning sessions, but the Hot Springs Board of Directors will have the ultimate say. Its decision will inform a request for proposals. McCabe said the city could be ready to begin the selection process by September.

The choice will reflect core values the 2017-18 board established for the property’s redevelopment, he said, requiring the winning submission to combine economic, environmental, historic preservation and visitor experience considerations into a comprehensive plan.

“Whatever we decide, we’re going to live with for 50 to 100 years,” McCabe said. “The Majestic stood strong for a number of years before it stopped its use as a hotel. We have one chance to do this right, so public input is really important.”

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