Fort Smith businessman announces major overhaul of downtown property

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 5,232 views 

Specifics are not ready, but one Central Business Improvement District (CBID) commissioner has big plans for the 901-911 block of Garrison Avenue with announcements expected in the next 30 to 60 days.

Phil White, president of downtown Fort Smith-based General Pallets at 611 South 4th St., told fellow commissioners at Tuesday’s (April 18) meeting the genesis of the redevelopment began with a small group of people “about 10 or 11 years ago,” and in the next 30 days, he and business consultant John Canterbury will begin obtaining permits on distressed properties at that location.

“Most of us think of it as the old Sears building,” White explained to the board. “We were trying to recreate ideas for downtown, and this was a concept that came up. We identified this property as a troubled piece of property, very distressed, and needing attention on the avenue. … Today, I’m just presenting it and not asking for any improvements, but that will probably be at the next meeting.”

White said he has obtained an architect for the project and that the redevelopment has “just come together in the last few days.”

The ground floor on the corner of 9th and Garrison will “probably” be a farm-to-table restaurant.

“It will not be a fine dining type of restaurant, but it’s not going to be a hamburger joint either,” White told Talk Business & Politics after the meeting. “I would say health food-related, a kind of Southern Comfort, farm-to-family, deal. It’s not going to be a bar.”

The redevelopment will encompass around 19,000 square feet on the ground, and, White notes, it could include a garden space and some shops where the back entrance of the middle building front now stands.

Part of the 901-911 block of Garrison Avenue.

“The building is collapsed. There is a front there, but when you look through the glass, there’s nothing there. There will be trees planted with a garden and stairs going up and down. There could be a storefront from that part of the building back there. I could see a yoga studio or something. I’d call it ‘activity-commercial.’ No office space. Just retail and active lifestyle. I’ve got some things going but I can’t say anything more than that.”

White also said he has an estimate of what the redevelopment will cost, but “not that I’m willing to say.” However, he is willing to state plans for the second level the aforementioned stairs will lead to: “That will be about 8,000 square feet of apartments” with a roof connecting the two sides, White said.

“I’m thinking put a roof on it, and there will be a balcony space for furniture and grill built in for the apartment people to have a common space where they can sit outside in the shade and watch the drunks on the avenue,” White joked. “It’ll be 11 or 12 units — big studio lofts.”

In addition to General Pallets, his seat on the CBID, and the planned Garrison development, White also leases The Park at West End to the city of Fort Smith for $1 per year. The park is where the city’s iconic ferris wheel is located.

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