In a July 27 notice in the Pacesetting Times classifieds, Jerry Smith, the operator of the resort, announced he was giving up his interest in the property and ceasing operation "no later than August 31."
Smith indicated in the notice that the Carriage Room Restaurant and Bar were closing July 30, and food service ended on August 7, with Sunday Brunch in the hotel lobby.
The News has learned that the executor for the estate of long time owner, Carlie Smith, has hired Wilson Auctioneers of Hot Springs to auction the property on Wednesday, September 14, in the hotel lobby.
Wilson Auctioneers' Web site lists a 10 a.m. auction on September 14 for the: "130+ acre Hillhigh Resort and Cedar Glade Golf Course, to be offered in tracts and in its entirety. All selling, regardless of price, to the highest bidder."
According to Gladys Raney of Wilson Auctioneers, the current plan is to first take bids to sell the property in three tracts: the hotel and resort property, the golf course and a lake area on the property, which could be used for future development.
After that round of bidding, the company will consider selling the hotel and golf course together, or all three properties as one.
"We will consider any combination of bids that will bring the most money for the properties," said Raney.
Horseshoe Bend Mayor Bob Barnes was alarmed at word the resort was apparently closing. "If it shuts down, its going to be bad for the town, no question," said Barnes
But Barnes is hopeful someone will step up to buy the resort.
|"One way to look at it is, some companies specialize in buying distressed property," said Barnes. "While it will take a lot of money to get it (the resort) in pristine condition, someone should be able to buy it at a very reasonable price."|
Horseshoe Bend Chamber of Commerce President Brenda Doty is also hopeful there will be interest in the property.
"I think it would be a good investment, a good buy," said Doty. "It has a fabulous layout and all the amenities are there. It will cost money to get it in shape, but I think a new owner could bring a lot of folks in."
Since the death of Carlie Smith, Smith's brother, Jerry, and his family have run the resort and Smith's estate has continued to invest money for some upgrades at the aging facility.
According to Barnes, the resort was built as the Pratt brothers developed Horseshoe Bend in the early 1960s and, in the early days, "it was really hopping."
The Hillhigh facility was a fancy addition to the rural area, featuring hotel rooms and suites, an upscale heath spa with an indoor pool and fitness center, and the Cedar Glade golf course.
The Carriage Room restaurant and the Tip Top Room nightclub helped attract area residents, as well as out of town visitors.
While the resort has had its ups and downs over the years, it has never lost its importance as a center for community events, hosting wedding receptions, anniversary dinners, proms, countless meetings of community groups and many other functions.
"I'm upset about it because this is a major asset in the community," said Horseshoe Bend resident Ken Ballman. "It has always been here. I remember a lot of big companies, like FedEx, used to come in here to hold meetings at Hillhigh or set up and display their wares to clients. We have held our Kiwanis Club meetings here for years and now that's uncertain. It's sad."
Employees of Hillhigh Resort had praise for Jerry Smith and his family for "spending money-hand-over fist" to try to improve the property in a difficult economic environment.
"They have been nothing but good to me and the community," said one employee. "They've tried hard to make it work."
In recent years, the resort sponsored a bluegrass festival and the popular "Ozarks got Singers" competition, which brought big crowds back to the old Tip Top Room, where the competition was held.
Hillhigh also upgraded its kitchen, and offered seafood buffets and other specials to promote the Carriage Room Supper Club.
The November 2009 issue of Avenues Magazine highlighted the major renovation of a section of rooms and suites at the hotel.
"One thing that makes this a surprise is, they have continued to spend money on it (the resort). They have maintained the golf course all summer and kept it in good condition," said Barnes.
Jerry Smith did not return calls to The News seeking comment. In his newspaper announcement, Smith indicated his brother's estate owes loans to a local bank, but said the bank had not foreclosed on the property and the estate continues to make loan payments.
A surveyor for Wilson Auctioneers has finished surveying the property to determine how many individual tracts will be sold and how large they will be.
Photos will soon be posted on the Wilson Auctioneers Web site.
|At the auction, the resort will be sold as a turn-key operation, ready for a new owner to open immediately after closing on the property, with rooms, the restaurant, pool and fitness center ready for use|
The Hillhigh Resort closing comes at a time when the Horseshoe Bend Chamber of Commerce has launched a new effort to promote the city as a good place to visit, relocate or retire.
A chamber ad in the current issue of Living in Arkansas Magazine appears in the "Best Places to Retire" section.
The chamber is also printing "Welcome to Horseshoe Bend" fliers for visitors, and developing a brochure it will distribute to other chamber of commerce offices and visitor centers in the region.
"Horseshoe Bend has nice housing available, and great recreation with its golf courses and lakes," said Doty, who moved to the city with her family in 2008, after years of vacationing there.
"We think a lot of people would be interested in moving here, if they knew about it. The chamber is trying to do more to get people to come in and vacation and see what we have to offer. We would like to see the town grow a little."