The joint meeting of the City of Fort Smith and its Parks Commission on Thursday (May 10) failed to set a five-year plan, the way City Administrator Ray Gosack wanted. But it did come to terms with projects through 2014 that the bond tax extension, passed in March, will cover.
At the top of the list is the Ben Geren Park Aquatics Facility. Next, the board will target the addition of two softball fields at Ben Geren Park, followed by an eight-field softball facility at Chaffee Crossing.
The meeting also yielded a threat from Mayor Sandy Sanders with regard to Ben Geren’s softball fields and their placement in the post-aquatics facility pecking order.
“Ben Geren needs to be first, and if it’s not, then whatever you decide, is going to need five votes, or I’ll veto,” Sanders said.
City Directors Philip Merry and Pam Weber were entertaining the possibility of a $2.4 million infrastructure project to improve the Fort Smith riverfront, but Sanders disagreed.
“What we’ve committed to, and campaigned on — what I’ve committed to civic clubs and organizations throughout the campaign, is that our first priority was replacing those fields at Ben Geren,” Sanders said.
Sanders noted he was “also committed to the fields at Chaffee Crossing,” or the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) championed by Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Arkansas Economic Development Commission member Lee Webb. Vice-Mayor Kevin Settle agreed with Sanders, and reminded city directors and park commissioners that it wasn’t just the mayor, who had campaigned for focusing on the two softball field additions at Ben Geren Park.
“Mike (Bock)’s group campaigned for this and paid for ads, putting themselves out there throughout for this tax. We laid this out to the public with this understanding, and that’s what we should do — that’s what we should follow,” Settle said.
In the 1990’s, Bock, a league representative of the Sebastian County Girls Softball League, watched as two fields were taken from his organization in order to expand the National Cemetery.
“It’s been about twenty years,” Bock told city directors and commissioners. “We’re tired of waiting.”
Eventually, the board agreed that the two softball fields at Ben Geren Park should be the first priority for state bond monies after the aquatics facility, and that the RVSC at Chaffee Crossing should be next.
But there was also an additional priority that came to light at Thursday’s meeting: soccer.
City Director Andre Good said he had “reached out to the Hispanic community,” and was told there is a growing need in the area for soccer fields.
Speaking to this point, Dave Marshall, who runs the Fort Smith Express Soccer League, said that “about 55% of my players are Hispanic,” and that the “culture promotes through the youth to the adults.”
Marshall continued: “In fact, we are working toward an adult league by 2014.”
Marshall said, and Good agreed, that the Hispanic population in Fort Smith, particularly those interested in the sport, are not wanting to see “all the improvements made at once.”
“My membership just wants to see movement. We’re not expecting anything overnight. Our membership is steadily growing because we are doing a little bit of what we said we were going to do, and we’re doing it on a continuous basis,” Marshall said.
Some of those “things” include spending $3,000 of league funds on improvements to the fencing at Ben Geren Park, where the group currently plays on 10 fields.
The next meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors will take place May 15.