Fort Smith board hears about sports complex move

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 131 views 

The City of Fort Smith Board of Directors are considering a proposal to move the River Valley Sports Complex, a facility consisting of eight new softball fields, away from Chaffee Crossing to Riverfront Drive in Downtown Fort Smith.

The issue arose at the Tuesday (April 10) Study Session at the Main Branch of the Fort Smith Public Library.

Lee Webb and Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, who have championed the $1.6 million project from its inception, were approached “by individual (unnamed) city directors and members of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID)” to consider the move, according to Files.

Files believes the Sports Complex “will succeed wherever it goes,” but did indicate that placing it on a 51-acre plot of land at Riverfront Drive would “serve as a catalyst to future growth and investment in the Downtown area,” he said.

City Director Andre Good agreed with Files’ assessment of what the Sports Complex addition would mean to Downtown Fort Smith.

“I’m excited. Any time we talk about riverfront development, and how it affects the Downtown area, it excites me. I also think that at either location, it’s going to be a success. But putting it on the riverfront will be a catalyst to stir development and encourage investment on the north side of town,” Good said.

The problem for detractors lies in the move itself, which would cost around $2.3 million in added infrastructure. The land designated for the facility at Chaffee Crossing would require no additional costs beyond that of the facility.

Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen was in attendance to voice his opposition.

“Mike Richards and I went out on the trail campaigning for the bond extension and spread the word about the new fire station and the ball fields being built there (at Chaffee Crossing). I’ve received emails from people asking why we’re going to let the ball fields go Downtown instead of at Chaffee Crossing.”

Owen continued: “There are no infrastructure costs at Chaffee to worry about, no floodway, no lease to get out of, no cost involved from the city other than to say, ‘Yes, we’re gonna do what we said we’re gonna do.’ For the record, I support Downtown development, but this is the right thing to do — to put them where you said you were going to put them in the first place.”

City Director George Catsavis added, “There’s a real credibility issue here with the people of Fort Smith and the board if you change the location. We’re telling them one thing, and now that it (bond extension) has passed, we’re doing another.”

The 51 acres on Riverfront Drive, where the Sports Complex would relocate, is leased to the Sebastian County Girls Softball League.

League Representative Mike Bock was in attendance Tuesday and verbally committed to “giving up the lease,” once the City moves forward with building the two new softball fields at Ben Geren Park for his group's use.

The Board’s next steps will hinge on a meeting with the Parks Commission on May 10.

Following a meeting with Fort Smith business owner Jerry Hamel in March, City Administrator Ray Gosack recommended that board members not accept the one-camera proposal Hamel submitted and instead consider restoring city funding at the mid-year review in July with a three-camera television broadcast.

Board members seemed more eager to get the meetings back on the air, deciding in lieu of positive sales tax data, to place the item on the April 17 agenda.

For the first two months of 2012, Fort Smith sales tax collections are 6.95% higher than was budgeted. Should the trend continue throughout the year, Gosack expects “an additional $1,060,000, in revenue,” more than enough to take on the estimated $26,000 expense of television broadcasts.

Along with a return to television, the Board will also consider a proposal from Pharis Broadcasting to air live audio of the meetings on KFPW radio. The Board will also decide whether to stream the meetings live on the city’s website.

Also discussed at the Study Session was the issue of citizen participation at formal board meetings. The city performed a study of the six most largely populated cities in Arkansas—Little Rock, Fayetteville, Springdale, Jonesboro, North Little Rock, and Conway—to determine how citizen participation was handled.

Of the cities examined, Vice-Mayor Kevin Settle was most partial to Fayetteville’s idea of a town hall meeting following the actual board meeting, and a majority of directors were in agreement with none dissenting.

“We could have a town hall meeting after the first Tuesday meeting each month, where we could sit down and let the citizens have a coffee-talk chat with us. If citizens still feel aggrieved they can still be part of the agenda items, if they don’t feel we’ve answered their problems,” Settle said.

The issue was added to the April 17 agenda.