Here’s what Steve Arrison envisions: lots of people pouring into Hot Springs, biking in, hauling kayaks in, driving in for the World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Bunking in the new hotels, soaking up the craft suds, enjoying the thermal waters. And he wants an improved quality of life for the residents of the Spa City. Thanks to the internet, Arrison said, “people can live anywhere.” Why not Hot Springs?
Arrison, 62, has worked as the CEO of Visit Hot Springs, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, for 20 years. In that time, he’s seen gaming join the racetrack at Oaklawn Park, the reopening of once-struggling Magic Springs Theme and Water Park in 2000 thanks to a local bond issue, the expansion of the convention center and the opening of the Embassy Suites Hotel. He was part of the group that worked on the Hot Springs Historic Baseball Trail. The latest big thing that has Hot Springs promoters licking their chops: Oaklawn’s $100 million expansion that will bring a high-rise hotel with 200 rooms, an event center
Arrison is quick to say he wasn’t alone, or even the prime mover, in bringing such new investments to Hot Springs. He’s part of a team, and he was reluctant to have the Arkansas Times single him out.
But he would take credit for the Northwoods project, the multimillion-dollar bike-trail development taking place on 2,000 hilly Ouachita Mountain acres just west of downtown. The property was made off-limits to the public after 9/11 because its four lakes supplied drinking water to the city. The city opened the land after it discontinued use of three of the lakes, and in 2016 Arrison — who said he didn’t even know the property existed — visited. He was struck by its beauty and had the notion that it would be a good place to build bike trails. Hot Springs already attracts the cycling public with several bike trails, both rugged and easy.
After a visit to Bentonville, where the Walton Family Foundation has invested $74 million on mountain bike trails and the bike trail system that connects Bentonville to Bella Vista and Fayetteville, Arrison made a pitch for Walton money for the Northwoods trail. He was successful: The Walton Family Foundation matched Visit Hot Springs’ contribution of $680,000 and phase one was launched. The city dedicated the trail’s first 14 miles in November; eventually, Northwoods will have 44 miles of mountain bike trail, complete with angled berms, dirt ramps
Arrison is also looking forward to the day when the Southwest Bike Trail from Pulaski County to Garland County becomes a reality, but that will be many years from now. He’s not going anywhere, however: “I hope to be in this job six or seven years from now. I love what I do.”
Next on Arrison’s plate is the development of the city’s five acres at Park and Central avenues, where the Majestic Hotel once stood. The University of Arkansas’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design and Kansas State University
The Majestic property is a “real pivotal piece” to Hot Springs’ development, so it’s important to “get it right.” He thinks a public-private partnership is likely.