Hot Springs wants Sun Belt to stay, but will keep options open toward others


Steve Arrison, CEO of Visit Hot Springs, made it clear Tuesday morning they want to keep the Sun Belt Conference basketball tournaments. But, if that doesn’t work out, they’ll be in the mix for other events.

Summit Arena in Hot Springs
Arrison made his comments during an appearance on KZNG-AM’s Talk of the Town with Dick Antoine.

“We’ve got two years remaining on our contract with the Sun Belt. They’ll be here the next two years for sure. We’re trying to convince them to stay here after that. It’s just a wait and see,” Arrison said.

Hot Springs will also bid again for the state high school basketball finals, which will be played this year at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock. Hot Springs also has interest in the Great American Conference, which features in-state schools Arkansas Tech, Harding, Henderson State, Ouachita Baptist and Southern Arkansas. They also have interest in the Southland Conference, which features in-state Central Arkansas, along with out of state schools surrounding the state.

But it all starts with the Sun Belt Conference.

“Our agreement with the Sun Belt is that by May 1 of next year they’ll let us know if we’re going to renew the contract or not. The original contract was that they had to let us know by August 1st, but in our meetings in May they agreed to let us know by May 1st of next year,” Arrison said. “We’re looking at the Great American Conference, which might not even conflict. We could maybe do both. It just depends. That would be a fun event for us.  We’ve just got to play the waiting game to see date wise.”

The Great American Conference held its first postseason tournament last year in Bartlesville, Okla. They initially signed a two-year contract for 2012 and 2013, but have since added on 2014. After that, it goes up for yearly renewal with both the GAC and Bartlesville needing to approve it. That means the soonest Hot Springs could host the GAC would be 2015.

The GAC Tournament runs March 7-10 this year, while the Sun Belt Tournament runs March 8-11.

“We’re very interested in them. We’re very interested in the Southland Conference which UCA is a member of. Craig Drummond on our staff is bird dogging all of that, trying to figure out,” Arrison said. “We’ve just sort of got to see how it all lays out, which bid comes up first. Some of them are different, some are the same dates. If we don’t get one, we might have the opportunity to get another. It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Next year will be a big year for us in seeing what we’re going to have, at least when it comes to sporting events, for the next four years.”

The Sun Belt has held its tournament in Hot Springs the past four years. Recently, Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson has been openly flirting with other cities, including New Orleans and Gwinnett, Ga.

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