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WATCH | VHS outlines capital needs at convention center

by James Leigh | March 11, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
The curved roof of Bank OZK Arena is visible at left, looking east across Convention Boulevard on Friday. - Photo by Mark Gregory of The Sentinel-Record

Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison told members of the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission earlier this week that the Hot Springs Convention Center has several significant capital needs that need to be addressed in the next few years, including the Bank OZK Arena roof as early as next year.

The capital items, estimated at $6.7 million, include around $2 million to replace the arena's roof, Arrison estimates. The roof was "recoated" in 2016 and had an expected life of eight years, leading to the need to replace the roof on the 20-year-old building.

"We've replaced the roof around the Horner Hall area," he said, noting that part of the convention center is 25 years old.

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"We've done a lot of other things, and I challenge anybody to come over here and say that this building's 25 years old. I just don't think it looks that way because it's always been kept up. That's why we've kept a restricted reserve fund. That's why we try to save money for when the inevitable comes. When right now you have a $2 million, that's an estimate, roof on the arena that probably needs to be replaced, not in '23 but in '24," he said.

Other items on the list of capital needs Arrison provided the commission on Wednesday included recaulking and recoating the exterior of the buildings, estimated at $750,000; refinishing wooden beams, $150,000; updating the HVAC system, $800,000; replacing banquet chairs, $550,000; and replacing the carpet, $450,000.

The exterior of the convention center has not been updated since it was completed in 1998, and the arena's exterior has not been updated since its completion in 2003.

"All the HVAC units and ERUs that power our heating, ventilation and air conditioning, they're 20, 25 years old," he told the commission. "Everything's, at 25, sort of end of life, so in the next two to three years, we're going to be replacing these things. Banquet chairs, hopefully, we'll do that this year. Those'll be about $550,000. These are the original banquet chairs that we opened up 25 years ago."

Arrison said while small things have been done, the age of the building requires more expensive updates.

"There's just a lot of different things that just need to be done, unfortunately, all at the same time," he said. "We've been chipping away at it, and we've had several very good years since COVID ended so we have the money.

"So we're going to start tackling these projects, and we're not going to have to use our restricted funds, which is always there, because I think what people forget is that if the advertising and promotion commission wasn't taking care of the convention center, we would be going to the city board for general fund money."

The ad commission set aside state turnback funds in a restricted account the convention center cannot access without its approval.

"Unlike a lot of facilities who took that money and just used it for operating, the A&P Commission's, ever since that time, put it in a special account where we couldn't touch it," Arrison said, noting the account has $8.4 million.

"We can use the interest off of it. ... We'll use that interest out of that towards some of these purchases we're doing, but will always keep that $8.4 million in there forever. And hopefully, as interest rates are getting better, it'll earn more."

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