Fort Smith Vice-Mayor wants city to ‘think big’ in Harry E. Kelley Park redesign

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 886 views 

Fort Smith Director Kevin Settle believes the city needs to be “thinking big” when it comes to the future of Harry E. Kelley Park along the riverfront in downtown Fort Smith.

At a Tuesday (June 13) study session, Settle dismissed the idea of making small tweaks and improvements to the park, instead taking a long-range view.

“When the Amp started in Fayetteville, it was a tent. Today it’s a concrete structure that holds 8,000 people,” Settle said. “There’s no reason that version of the Rogers Amp cannot be downtown in that park.”

Settle suggested re-situating the park by ninety degrees and placing the stage along the Arkansas River. Doing so would allow the city to “put everything you want in that area.”

“To me, we need to be thinking big instead of thinking about enhancing our stage. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know all the costs. But we need to get an idea of what it would cost us and really turn this into a first-rate venue.”

Settle continued: “(The Rogers Amp is) having concerts every week, packing that place out, and people are paying for it, and there’s really no reason in the future we couldn’t partner with the Amp as part of a concert series, where you get people involved there one day and here the next. We need to make this where we can have concerts on the River and utilize the space better than what we’re doing today.”

Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert felt an Amp partnership was viable based on his previous discussions with the group. While acknowledging “a rivalry” between cities – “they do compete against each other” – the Rogers location is in a situation where it must turn events away. “They would be more than happy to send those events our way,” Reinert said, adding, “if they can help us out, they will.”

As far as how to fund, Settle is encouraging the Parks Department to look into re-envisioning the park and then enlisting the private sector for development. Settle’s suggestion follows an April 4 meeting in which the Board requested a future study session to discuss ideas for addressing the park’s underutilization.

The goals given to Reinert at the previous meeting: make the park more accommodating to large crowds (current capacity is between 3,000-8,000); attract more venues; generate revenue; and evaluate revitalization costs.

Current challenges of the venue include just 100 public parking spaces; an undersized stage; flooding; and no direct income source save for the $1,000 per day rental fee the city charges to private entities. Nonprofits are not charged, Reinert said, adding, “if they bring in 3,000 people, and 3,000 people are staying in our hotels and generating revenue, that more than makes up for it.”

The site also has accessibility issues and 150-200 seats where visibility is obscured by landscaping.

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