Hot Springs’ economy is presently stronger than ever, with announcements of Oaklawn’s 100-million-dollar expansion and hotel and the city’s new urban wilderness park, but there’s a complex story behind the expansion.
Cole McCaskill, Vice President of Economic Development for Hot Springs, says these recent investments in the city makes it the perfect time to be living, working and investing in the Spa City. It’s clear by the city’s name that Hot Springs is known for its natural spas and bathhouses. For years, locals and tourists have flocked to the natural hot springs to bathe in the world-famous mineral baths, but Oaklawn Racing & Gaming has also had a long history in lending a helping hand to the city’s economy.
“The history of Hot Springs and Oaklawn has been intertwined beautifully since 1904,” says McCaskill. “As Arkansas’ number one visitor attraction and only professional sporting venue, people come from far and wide to play at Oaklawn, and they also enjoy the diverse offering of entertainment that Hot Springs offers.”
Big racing and gaming businesses like Oaklawn attract plenty of fans to the cities and states they’re in. While Hot Springs’ population is 36,000, Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby Day attracts more than 60,000 racing fans.
“Obviously, big racing and gaming businesses provide considerable tax revenue to the cities and states they are in, but they also bring tourists that help fill hotels, restaurants and spas,” says Jennifer Hoyt, the media relations manager at Oaklawn.
Oaklawn gives back to the city in ways other than tax revenue and tourism increase though. Hoyt says that the Oaklawn Foundation gives back to the Hot Springs’ community year-round.
“The Foundation uses the money generated from gaming to fund programs and scholarships to benefit Garland County students and senior citizens, including the construction of the Center on Aging association with the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation,” Hoyt explains. “In 2018, Oaklawn generated nearly $1.4 million for the Oaklawn Foundation and since 2007, has generated nearly $9.4 million.”
If Oaklawn is thriving, so is the city of Hot Springs. While Oaklawn brings a ton of people into the city, the rich history of Hot Springs piques the tourist’s interests, so the hotels, spas, and restaurants downtown have recently seen significant growth.
“In the last five years, 115 new businesses have opened downtown, over 80 historic buildings have been bought and sold, and over 100 million dollars has been invested downtown,” says McCaskill. “That growth is multiple times more than the average downtown in the Southern United States.”
Hot Springs wouldn’t be the unique municipality it is without the bathhouses, hotels and restaurants; and without Oaklawn Racing & Gaming, the city would lack the corporate partner it needs to continue to create new opportunities. It’s safe to say these two major parts of Hot Springs come together to create a diverse and distinctive city.
“We’re not changing the Hot Springs story; we are what we are, and it works,” says McCaskill. “Our colorful history and great natural amenities like the National Park and the lakes are great resources for us to build on.”