The Fort Smith Board of Directors welcomed a one-year reduction of around $200,000 in the 2016 subsidy to the Fort Smith Convention Center (FSCC) and also geared up for a round of hearings pertaining to the city’s new Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) ordinance.
Most of the session held Tuesday (Feb. 28) focused on the FSCC’s 2016 performance. Overall the center was able to reduce its tax-funded operating subsidy by more than $200,000 (-21.85%). FSCC Chief Operating Officer (COO) Tim Seeberg and Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) Executive Director Claude Legris presented the financials to city directors, touting the center’s $777,519 as a record year for revenues. The performance, Legris said, beat out the FSCC’s other three highest-performing years (2010, 2014, and 2015) in spite of being hamstrung in the first two quarters of the year by hotel renovations at the adjoining Holiday Inn.
Hilton Hotels spent more than $10 million on the renovation which included rebranding the facility to DoubleTree by Hilton Fort Smith City Center. The hotel is the brand’s first in Fort Smith, and features a nine-story atrium-style design, 255 upscale rooms.
Legris provided economic impact totals from the center’s 17 highest producing events, stating there was a $14.71 million footprint by events hosted at the FSCC, generating an estimated $293,715 in sales taxes for the city. On the expense side, the center was able to reduce operating totals to $1.348 million from $1.447 million in 2015, though Seeberg said he did not foresee the belt tightening to hold through 2017 due to capital improvement projects the center will need to address.
“Building repairs are not typically this low especially in recent years,” Seeberg added.
The FSCC’s fund balance is just north of $400,000, and the city tries to keep reserves between $200,000-$250,000 at all times, according to Fort Smith Finance Director Jennifer Walker. This leaves around $150,000 to address capital improvements, such as replacement of the center’s 16-year-old carpets (projected cost of $200,000-$275,000); replacement of 16-year-old banquet chairs (projected cost, $200,000); and replacement of the facility’s mobile scissor lift (projected cost between $15,000-$35,000 depending on buying new or used). Legris expects the improvements can be “phased in” over a 4-6 year period.
The city budgets approximately $770,000 annually to help fund the FSCC. In November 2011, 62.7% of voters rejected a proposed 1% prepared food tax that was estimated to raise $1.8 million for the purpose of operating the center, which was expanded in the late 1990s.
Also Tuesday, the Board opened its session with a presentation from Fort Smith Utilities Deputy Director of Operations Lance McAvoy, who announced public hearing dates in the implementation of the city’s new FOG ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the Board in December. The ordinance calls for better accountability from FOG generators (mainly restaurants) in the city, and is a requirement of the consent decree between the city and the federal government that mandates improvements to the city’s water and sewer system.
McAvoy said the purpose of the outreach meetings will be to solicit public comment and answer questions on the ordinance while ensuring it is a balance of “consent decree compliant and business friendly.”
Citing an example of how the city has attempted to make the ordinance business friendly, McAvoy said Fort Smith’s ordinance is only 14 pages while others across the country run to about 50 pages. The first two meetings will be held at the Fort Smith Convention Center on Thursday (March 2) at 2 and 6 p.m. The third will be at Creekmore Park on Monday (March 6) at 1 p.m. The fourth and final will be at the Elm Grove Community Center on March 16 at 6 p.m.