The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) tackled multiple issues facing downtown Fort Smith on Thursday (Feb. 9) at the group’s annual retreat in the Riverfront West Events Building. Among the issues was that of parking and the possible installation of a second parking garage. Board members agreed the parking issue was "holding back downtown development."
The CBID has targeted Sixth and Ninth Streets along Garrison Avenue for a possible future garage location. While talks are in the preliminary stages at this point, the facility could house a retail location as an additional feature.
Board member Rodney Ghan identified a recent “lost tenant,” who could have brought “as many as 200 employees” to the Downtown Fort Smith area. The lack of parking available to employees was the eventual deal-breaker, Gahn said, noting that the company, whom he did not name at the event, “came to us wanting to move in to Downtown Fort Smith.”
Ghan told City Administrator Ray Gosack that while Fort Smith did not lose the tenant, “Downtown Fort Smith did.” The perceived inactivity of the parking authority was a frequent source of frustration for the CBID, who questioned Gosack about what they could do to move forward.
“They (parking authority) are more of a perfunctory group, and it's been a couple of years since there has been a need for them,” Gosack said, adding he “did not feel they would think their toes were being stepped on if the CBID wanted to take charge on a parking plan for Downtown.”
According to Gosack, building parking spaces, decks, or garages, were among the possibilities of the parking authority. Gosack said he would consult with the city’s bond attorney to see whether those powers could transfer to CBID or whether the two entities could combine forces.
“We’re not trying to infringe on the power they have been mandated,” board member Richard Griffin said. “It’s just that one of the requirements to be on this board is that you have to own property in the district. It gets your attention as you try to develop the whole area.”
STREET, RAILROAD MOVES
Another group priority in the next 18 months will focus on the closing of A-Street and the repositioning of B-Street to allow for more green space in the downtown area. The closure would also play into long-term plans of adding a “splash park” to downtown Fort Smith.
“The next step will be doing a traffic impact analysis to see how streets would be affected and what improvements would have to be made to accommodate traffic diversions. Then, we would need a public input meeting. We need to make sure we know what the repercussions are,” Gosack said, noting that he would get with the city’s engineers after the event and initiate the analysis.
Separate but related to the issue, the board expressed interest in relocating railroad maintenance facilities, though concrete action on how this can move forward has not been reported at this time.
Board member Phil White noted that “fundraising for the splash park would be more attractive” if both the A-Street closure and the rail maintenance relocation were moving forward, though the activities were not tied to one another. “For that reason,” White said, the planned $475,674 facility would have to wait beyond the group’s short-term goals.
BRIDGE WORK, TAX ASSESSMENT
Another key issue the group will undertake in the coming year involves cosmetics on the Garrison Bridge entryway into Fort Smith. According to Gosack, Oklahoma “owns 90% of the bridge,” so the board could face challenges. But members were confident they could “add lighting” or “do something to make that first view of Fort Smith more attractive,” White said.
Ghan noted funds to initiate the planning stages for Garrison Bridge and for other improvement projects were “hard to come by,” and that the group would need to do something to add revenue as most expenses “came out of the board members’ pockets.” The board was in agreement.
As a result, Jayne Hughes, a CBID liaison for the city of Fort Smith. will initiate parcel assessments for a possible tax levy. Group estimates for “$1 per foot of frontage,” would result in approximately $20,000 annually for initiating plans with architects and engineers.
Should the assessment result in additional taxation, it would be the first time the group has levied a tax in its history.
Long-term goals discussed at the event included the improvement and possible move of city hall facilities to a maximum 70,000 square-foot building and the possibility of tax credits and business incentives for bringing companies to a possible riverfront corporate office.
Concerning city hall, Gosack said city staff's current space needs are 60,000 square feet, but employees are working in a “cramped 30,000 square-foot location” in the Stephens Building at 623 Garrison.
Regarding the riverfront corporate office, plans are that it will consist of 50,000 square feet, according to the group’s 2012 goals and service objectives. Ownership of the facility would stay with the CBID, who would offer lease purchases to business tenants, and who would work in conjunction with the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce to market the facility.
Finally, the Park at West End showed improvements in its second season under Fort Smith operation. Total revenues for 2011 saw a slight increase from $22,175.60 to $22,609.68. Expenses fell from $26,414.53 in 2010 to $23,735.53 last year. The net loss dropped from $4,238.93 to $1,125.85, with the deficit offset by a CBID fund. The lease for 2012 has been approved.