A&P running mountain tower on old contract

By Wayne Bryan Published January 12, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Ron and Ramona Thompson of Dallas read informative signs at the Hot Springs Mountain Tower on Oct. 17. The tower is currently being operated by the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission under an extension of a contract that was previously set to expire at the end of 2013.

HOT SPRINGS — While the Hot Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission continues to operate the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, the commission does so with only a one-year extension of that contract, which was set to end on the final day of 2013.

“It’s one year, only if we get the new contract,” said Steve Arrison, executive director of the A&P Commission. “It could be less than that if we lost with our bid.”

The 216-foot-tall tower atop Hot Spring Mountain behind Bathhouse Row is operated under an extension of a concessions contract with the National Parks Service. It was determined that the extension was needed to allow time to prepare for bidding on the new contract.

“The tower contract was extended because there was not enough time to reissue the prospectus,” Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Josie Fernandez said Wednesday. “This is not unusual at all. As an example, the Buckstaff Bath House contract was extended several times, a year at a time, because of the same backlog [in preparing a prospectus].”

Fernandez, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, was on military duty in Washington, D.C., during the week and answered questions about the contact through emails.

“The backlog is nationwide,” she said. “It is not a local situation.”

She contacted the Parks Service’s Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Neb., and Sandy Poole, chief of commercial service, said the work on “the due diligence on the contract of the mountain tower, which includes financial analysis and insurance requirements, is such that an extension is warranted.”

Poole said her office expects to advertise for bidders in summer or fall 2014.

Arrison said the A&P Commission will bid on the contract to operate the tower, which has thousands of visitors each year.

“We think it is a vital part of tourism in the community,” he said. “We want it open so people can visit the attraction; it’s part of the Hot Springs experience.”

During a visit to the tower in April, Rosemary Huff, director of the tower, said the attraction is always popular.

“In the spring, of if there are clouds, we can have a slow day, and only 100 to 300 people visit on a weekend,” she said.

During the summer, the tower averages more than 500 visitors a day, Huff said.

Arrison said the tower was closed for 16 days during the shutdown of the federal government in the fall.

“That is a lot of time to be shut down,” he said early in the week. “You don’t get a lot of guests when its 9 degrees, either.”

Fernandez said the park service has received a lot of interest in the tower.

Once a bid is selected, the new contract will be put together, and with the amount of interest we have received, I don’t think it will be long before a new concessionaire contract, whether it is the current one or not, will be chosen.”

Arrison said the A&P is concerned that the price for operating the tower will go up.

“The park gets 10 percent of the gross, and that is a lot,” Arrison said. “We make a profit, but we don’t want to see [the park’s percentage] go up.”

A city bond issue financed construction of the tower, the third to be built at the site since 1977. The current tower was opened in 1983, and the Park Service holds the title.

If the commission does not win the new contract, the Park Service will owe the commission for its investment in the tower. In 2010, the park paid the commission $1.5 million as a buydown of the A&P’s stake in the tower.

“We want to bid on it,” Arrison said. “If we don’t get it, that is the way it is.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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