Ongoing delays with the River Valley Sports Complex reached a boiling point for the Fort Smith Parks Commission at a meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 14).
Commissioner Chris Raible asked Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert and Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman for an update and submitted a motion requiring RVSC organizers to update the Fort Smith Board of Directors at an upcoming meeting.
RVSC developers are Fort Smith businessman Lee Webb — also chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission — and Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith. The pair entered into an agreement with the city in 2014 with a target completion date of June 10, 2015. Substantial completion after the second extension pushed the next date to July 22, 2016 with an opening day of July 31. After missing that deadline, other dates followed — one in mid-October and one this month, arranged through Dingman.
Raible said his concern “is there’s a lot of work to do.”
“I don’t see us getting it running by the spring or fall season, and personally, I don’t know if that’s acceptable. At what point do we put pressure on those in charge of the project?” he said.
Reinert said the city already was pressuring Webb and Files.
“The only thing that has been done is hauling shale out of there. We’re still awaiting a report back, and we’re still pushing hard to get some sort of movement out there, but we aren’t real sure where they’re at or what they’re doing.”
As part of a public-private partnership, Dingman noted, the city’s options were limited.
“I’d say just asking these types of questions in a public meeting is about the best type of pressure that we have available to put on the organizers and folks committed to working on that project,” he said.
Dingman said the city had committed $1.6 million to the project, but the draw schedule was not all at once. In other words, “certain milestones have to be reached, and thus far, we’re at about $1 million. We haven’t paid them for work that hasn’t been completed.”
He continued: “With the nature of how this project has come to be, there’s really very little that we as staff can do to push or drive the issues. It is different from the Greg Smith River Trail, where we could require the contractor to hold some surety bond that we could use as leverage to get the project installed. We don’t have that available to us. The most we can do is to continue to ask for updates, which we do.”
Dingman said he asks Webb or Files for updates “every week or so, and the updates are typically, ‘Well, it’s going to take longer.'” Fencing and irrigation for the playing surfaces will be the next objective that has to be met before another draw, he added.
Money for the River Valley Sports Complex — at least from the city’s side — comes from the city’s sales and use tax for parks. Additional expenditures are carried out privately and through in-kind donations. In a September Parks Commission meeting, Dingman explained that the RVSC operates “under the benevolence of their vendors, and a lot of the work that was supposed to be done by the end of summertime wasn’t done because the contractors and vendors they were relying on for in-kind services had paying work in other places. That’s sort of been the theme of the whole project,” Dingman said.
The parks commission voted unanimously at the end of Wednesday’s meeting to require Webb and Files to provide an update at a future meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors.