CBID approves Jimmy John’s variance request, discusses splash pad

story by Ryan Saylor

The Fort Smith Central Improvement District approved a variance at a special meeting Tuesday (Sept. 2) that would allow a new Jimmy John's sandwich shop under construction at 822 Garrison Avenue to incorporate construction elements that differ from downtown guidelines.

At issue for the CBID were plans to use tinted windows on the structure even though downtown guidelines state that tinted windows are not allowed.

Original plans for 822 Garrison called for tinted windows on the ground floor occupied by Jimmy John's, as well as tinted windows for loft apartments above the gourmet sandwich shop.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, the city's liaison to the CBID, explained the purpose of the window ordinance to the commissioners.

"Really, where the guidelines get into tinting windows is in the storefronts. That's where it mostly addresses the tinting of windows because in the old day, the display windows were not tinted so you could see in and see the goods from outside," he explained.

CBID Chairman Richard Griffin, who has his own mixed use development under construction in the 400 block of Garrison Avenue, voiced opposition to the tinted windows proposed for 822 Garrison.

"Just to remind you of what our challenges are — we have a variance process and it seems to work and buildings end up looking pretty darn good," he said.

The CBID eventually voted to allow the variance for upper floors of the building to use a "moderately" tinted window while specifically prohibiting the use of tinted windows on the ground floor.

The commission also voted to deny a variance that would have allowed the sandwich chain to have a distinctive red strip running along the top of its sandwich shop, in an area between an apartment on the second floor and the restaurant on the first floor. A motion passed by the commission said the strip must be black in color.

Ghan said he would take the design to his clients and could bring back additional variance requests at the commission's next regular meeting on Sept. 16, though he said it would not slow construction.

He added that the restaurant could be open for business in about three months barring any delays. Ghan said total costs for the renovation of 822 Garrison were not yet known as unexpected expenses have occurred in the structure likely constructed between 1910 and 1915. Considering the overruns, he expects the total cost for the project could run $600,000 or more.

Included in the project is office space, as well was two loft apartments. Ghan said Jimmy John's has signed a lease on the office and one of the loft apartments. The 1,400 square foot apartment rents for $975 per month, leaving an additional 1,275 square foot apartment available for lease at $950 per month.

In other business, Dingman informed the CBID that a contract had still not been signed for the splash pad at Compass Park on the went end of downtown.

The project is more than $12,000 over budget, Dingman said, a bit lower than the $50,000 over budget it had been earlier this year. The park's original construction budget was $300,000.

It is possible that a masonry bench could be removed from the design of the park in order to meeting budget estimates, Dingman told the commission.

"But the recommendation from this group was to try to keep all this stuff," he added.

Griffin suggested that the commission could try to use money originally intended for railroad relocation to cover the overrun since the city and Union Pacific were unable to come to terms for relocation of a rail maintenance yard located behind Miss Laura's Visitors Center.

Asked when Compass Park could open, assuming money is found or cuts are made to the design, Dingman said there was no timetable.

It was also noted that no applications had been received for a vacant commission position vacated by the resignation of former CBID Commission Bennie Westphal.

"I'm speaking of tradition, but normally this group will make a recommendation and that hasn't been done yet. It's not a completed process," Griffin said.

Dingman said public notice had been made regarding the vacancy and the city board of directors and the CBID had been made aware of the vacancy should either group have recommendations on a possible replacement for Westphal.