HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - All but the Maurice and Hale bath houses are currently occupied, and business on Bathhouse Row is thriving, according to Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez.
“The leasing program is very different from the concession program,” she said. “Instead of saying ‘Here’s this tower - manage it for us,’ we’re inviting interested partners to tell us what they see for the bath houses. The only concrete restrictions we have are no gambling, no private residences and nothing related to adult entertainment - clubs, tattoo parlors. Anything else, we’re glad to hear the idea and determine ‘Yes. This is something we want in our park,’ or ‘No. Let’s go a different route.’”
Fernandez will be the first to say that her mission since coming to Hot Springs National Park has been to “spark the renaissance of Bathhouse Row,” and that all visitors have to do is look up to see that progress, The Sentinel-Record reported (https://bit.ly/1vq3AU7 ).
“I’ve always said ‘If there’s a flag flying, there’s a business operating in that beautiful building,’” she said. “And as long as there’s business operating, that’s park funds and taxpayer money that is going toward hiring another ranger to protect visitors of the park. And I think the average person would rather see their money going to hiring individuals to better serve the community than paying to heat and cool an empty building.
“When we hand that key over to the private partner and business owner, it’s because we are confident they will be able to pay the utilities and maintenance of the building, make profit for themselves, and will be able to pay the lease.”
And for anyone questioning the feasibility of partnering with the federal government to put these buildings to good use, Fernandez said to just ask those already operating on Bathhouse Row.
“I can tell interested individuals all day long the procedure and what we need from them to make their idea a reality, but as far as if we’re easy to work with or not I always direct them to the Buckstaff (Bath House), the Quapaw (Bath House) and the Superior Bathhouse Brewery,” she said. “They can give a better idea of how to own a business in a national park, and they’re all very successful from what they tell me and that’s an exciting thing for us.”
For the 2013-14 fiscal year, the cost of utilities for the Hale and Maurice bath houses was approximately $21,000, which helped stabilize heating, cooling and humidity. According to Fernandez, the park service could hire at least one ranger with those funds.
With help from the Friends of the National Park - a volunteer organization that raises needed funds to benefit the park - the park service continues to work on the Maurice to preserve the designated, historic spaces that keep the building’s character in place. Fernandez said each bath house has spaces that contribute to the history of Bathhouse Row and that private partners with businesses in these buildings agree to preserve those spaces.
“We want to preserve our history and there are certain spaces that have to remain true to our history,” she said. “However, we have to be realistic when a partner comes in wanting to operate their business out of these buildings.
“Anything we take down in preparing to offer a bath house to an interested individual we keep because, we may need to use it for repairs elsewhere in the building or the partner may want to use it in a new way. And everyone we’ve had interested in the bath houses has wanted to preserve the history and integrity of the building.”
With the centennial of the National Park System approaching in 2016, Fernandez said it is her hope to have every bath house on Bathhouse Row occupied and to bring more visitors to Hot Springs National Park. And with growing interest in downtown revitalization, she said she believes this is very possible.
“When it was announced earlier this year that a boutique hotel was possibly coming to the Hale Bath House, people started talking and something has happened with the people of Hot Springs,” she said. “People are seeing the success and realizing the potential, and they’re going to realize that there’s only one bath house left. I’m hoping by the time our centennial rolls around, we’ll see all bath houses filled.”
Information from: The Sentinel-Record, https://www.hotsr.com
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