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Hot Springs draws development: new roads, outside investments drive spa city commercial projects.

NEW ROADS, A BUSTLING residential real estate market and a metropolitan statistical area designation have landed Hot Springs a slew of commercial developments and more still to come.

The city's Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway, completed in 1996, spurred much of the commercial development--such as the $35 million, 350,000-SF Cornerstone Market Place--and is still a draw for development.

The expressway is a section of U.S. Highway 270 that intersects major Hot Springs thoroughfares Higdon Ferry Road and Central Avenue.

The newest expressway-inspired development could be a large shopping center on the site of the recently sold Garland County Fairgrounds on Higdon Ferry Road.

The fairgrounds board recently agreed to find a new home and sell the 37-acre property to SDI Realty of Houston for $9.1 million. (There remains a legal battle over where the new fairgrounds will be located.)

The company has not indicated specific plans for the site and did not return calls for comment, but local retailers say the shopping center could be more than 200,000 SF.

On its Web site, SDI says it "specializes in the development of 7,500-25,000-SF retail shadow centers, abutting grocers such as Kroger, (Texas-based) HEB and Wal-Mart Supercenter.

"SDI Realty has also been very successful in developing regional shopping centers up to 400,000 SF with anchors such as Circuit City, Office Depot, Academy Sports and Lowe's Homecenter."

Hidgon Ferry currently is being widened to five lanes, a project that should be completed next year, making the shopping center more viable.

Another major road project in the works could also create a windfall of commercial projects, developers say. Arkansas Highway 128, which intersects with Highway 270 East and travels south to Lake Hamilton and many of the area's golf courses and residential communities, is being repositioned for safer driving.

Helen Selig, a former Hot Springs mayor and executive broker of Selig Commercial Real Estate, said the new road could create several commercial developments, including office properties and medical facilities.

The first section of the road is expected to open early next year.

The road improvements have and will continue to play a big role in adding more commercial projects, Selig said.

"One of the things that have made retail shopping so good is the new roads," she said.

Another factor contributing to the growing commercial real estate market is the city's 2003 MSA designation, according to Dave Byerly, president and CEO of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Garland County Economic Development Corp.

"When we achieved that destination, we really got the attention of these big, national chains and franchises," Byerly said. "We're seeing an increase in interest from these large, national retail outfits that we didn't see two years ago."

Though Garland County's MSA stands at about 93,000, its 30-mile radius encompasses about 250,000 people, many of whom do their shopping in Hot Springs.

Though MSA designations might not sound sexy to tourists, Spa City's historic bathhouses certainly do.

Hot Springs National Park, which had 1.3 million outside visitors last year, is now negotiating a lease for two of its six vacant bathhouses, the Quapaw Bathhouse and the Maurice Bathhouse. Currently, only one of the city's historic bathhouses is operating, the Buckstaff Bath House.

Local historical architecture firm Taylor & Kempkes Architects PA wants to turn the Quapaw into a family-style bathhouse with individual baths, large pools, a gift shop and reception space.

Parts of the Quapaw could be open as soon as next year, according to Diane East, management assistant at Hot Springs National Park

Taylor & Kempkes would like to renovate the Maurice into an upscale day salon, but that project will take much longer, East said.

The park also is accepting requests for proposals to lease three other bathhouses--the Ozark, the Hale and the Superior--through April 17.

Besides the tourism draw, many out-of-state investors are coming to Arkansas to invest in commercial properties they could not afford elsewhere.

That must have been true for a Sunshine State investor who spent $9 million on three parcels of Hot Springs land in December.

"It doesn't take as much money to be a commercial real estate investor in Arkansas as in Florida," Byerly said.
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Title Annotation:commercial real estate
Comment:Hot Springs draws development: new roads, outside investments drive spa city commercial projects.(commercial real estate)
Author:Taulbee, Chip
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 13, 2006
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