story by Aric Mitchell
Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders is tight-lipped about a planned joint announcement by the cities of Fort Smith and Fayetteville about a “unified proposal” that promises to spur “regional and economic cooperation.”
Sanders and Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan will hold two press conferences on Feb. 8 to detail the proposal.
“The I-540 tunnel is a connector, not a divider; and the new partnership brings our two very important Arkansas cities together in ways that will strengthen our economics and help our citizens and businesses thrive,” Sanders said in a release announcing the press conferences.
Jordan noted in the statement: “This is a historic moment in the advancement of our cities, and I am excited about working with the second largest city in the state as we sit down together to discuss how we can further advance ourselves as cities and a region.”
The City Wire asked both camps if they could expand on these ideas long enough to offer readers a preview of what to expect. Jordan was unavailable to discuss on Friday, and Sanders may as well have been: “We don’t want to get into anything until the actual meetings,” he said.
When asked about how the two cities could be unified in their efforts for economic expansion and regional growth with approximately 60 miles between them, Sanders noted “things would be more clear” at the press conferences.
“The press release is just to give the public an idea of what to expect, and I think it does a good job of doing that,” Sanders said. “I wish I could give you more, but I can’t at this time.”
The Fort Smith press conference will take place at the Riverfront Events Building — West Side at 11 a.m., while the Fayetteville event will occur at the Fayetteville City Council Chamber, Room 219 of City Hall, at 3 p.m. The mayors will attend both events, Sanders said.
The events are held the same day as the annual meeting of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Steve Forbes, former Presidential candidate, president and CEO of Forbes Inc. and editor-in-chief of Forbes Magazine, will be the featured speaker at the chamber meeting. The event is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Feb. 8, at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
When asked if the announcement and Steve Forbes' appearance on Feb. 8 are connected, Sanders responded: "No, there is nothing connecting the two events. We'd set the February date before Mr. Forbes availability came open, so there is no tie-in. But I'm certainly glad it worked out that way because we'll be able to go from the announcement to Mr. Forbes."
While Sanders maintained on Friday that the press release “said it all,” the only substantial clue offered from the document reads, “Our shared interests can be advanced by a unified effort that begins with an informal dialogue among the leadership of both cities.”
Does that mean the “unified proposal” is further along or just a discussion starter?
“Wait until Wednesday,” Sanders said.