Downtown pedestrian bridge part of CBID plan

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 106 views 

More changes are planned for downtown Fort Smith, this time near the riverfront, past the Park at West End.

The first major project on the drawing board of the Central Business Improvement District is the relocation of a railroad maintenance facility located behind Miss Laura's.

According to Jayne Hughes a city employee who works as a liaison for the CBID, the relocation would take the maintenance facility from that location to a new location between Wheeler and Towson Avenues near R Street.

She said the move would not remove all active railroad tracks, but instead make the area more desirable by not having a maintenance facility, which she called the "Jiffy Lube of railroads" in a business area instead of an industrial area.

"If here you're wanting to build a corporate headquarters out here on the riverfront but then you have this eyesore right here that I'm going to see from my beautiful corner south-facing office, this is what I'm going to look at," she said, adding that site selectors from "unnamed" corporations have expressed a displeasure when viewing Fort Smith as a possible relocation site. She would not provide the name of any specific company.

Moving the facility to the new location will run about $220,000 to $250,000, she said, not including the donation of land from a private donor. City Administrator Ray Gosack said the transaction would be between the private land owner and the railroad and would not involve the city.

Gosack said the city had allocated $120,000 in this year's budget to assist in the relocation of the maintenance facility for the Fort Smith Railroad. He said more money would be needed in subsequent years, meaning a timeline for completion could not be provided.

He said the land will eventually be turned into green space.

Even though the existing location of the maintenance facility would will be turned into green space, some railroad lines will still be active in the area, so the CBID has also expressed interest in locating a pedestrian bridge over the tracks, Hughes said.

She said one possibility could be relocating a bridge that is due for replacement along Highway 59 in Crawford County. The relocation would be paid for through a program from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, Hughes said.

When asked what costs would be associated with retrofitting the bridge for pedestrian use, including making the structure compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Hughes could not provide an answer. Asked how the city or the CBID would pay for retrofitting the structure and ongoing maintenance, she said she did not have an answer for that, either.

"Not until we have an idea that we would possibly be receiving it. Because what will happen is more than likely private donations will come in because it is a historic bridge," she said, adding that she has not approached any potential donors.

Should the bridge be received and the CBID be able to install it, conceptual drawings show the structure being built south of Miss Laura's and north of the Park at West End, over the railroad tracks, which Hughes said would allow pedestrians easy access to the rest of downtown even if trains were passing through during a concert or other event.

A third phase to the improvements to the area near Riverfront Park would be installation of a "splash pad" near the construction of the bridge.

The splash pad be just behind the Park at West End and run north to the Pavilion on North B Street.

Hughes said "irrigation" was already in place, which would reduce costs of the project, though she again did not have a cost estimate.

Gosack said he would estimate the project to run about $250,000.

The point of all of the projects, Hughes said, was to make downtown Fort Smith a family-friendly destination. She said the three projects, while separate, would compliment each other and help the CBID accomplish the family-friendly goal. She could not provide a timetable for groundbreaking or completion, though she would like to see all three projects completed by 2015.

On April 25, officials with Griffin Properties announced a more than $3 million mixed-use development along the west end of Garrison Avenue.