Progress noted on ‘secure’ historic Fort Smith structure

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 103 views 

Renovation of the historic Friedman-Mincer building in downtown Fort Smith is on track, but the new owner said it is “impossible to fully appreciate” what it has taken just to get the structure to the point where architects and designers could begin work on renovation details.

Steve Clark, building owner and owner of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics, said Monday (Nov. 18) that structural renovation work is likely to begin in January 2014. Clark said the work between June and now focused on securing the structure so core samples could be taken to determine the type of architectural and design work needed to restore the more than 100-year-old structure.

The historic and white tiled Friedman-Mincer building – also known as the OTASCO building – at the intersection of Garrison Avenue and Towson Avenue in downtown Fort Smith was built in 1911. Clark announced in May he would restore the structure and move his Propak corporate offices to the building.

The acquisition and estimated renovation costs should total around $2 million the three-story, 24,000-square-foot building, Clark said. When completed, about 40 Propak employees will work in top two floors, with retail space planned for the bottom floor. Propak now has offices in a 9,000-square-foot space in the Arvest tower in Fort Smith. The company provides logistics, transportation and supply-chain management services.

“The good news is that the building is now safe and secure,” Clark said Monday, adding that “it’s testament to the (original) workmanship that it’s still standing up.”

A pleasant discovery during the initial process was that some of the timbers “are magnificent” and will be saved and “repurposed throughout the building.”

Clark said he has received “strong interest” in the retail space, with some of that coming from a micro brewery in Northwest Arkansas. Because he wants it to be a “flagship building for the downtown,” Clark said he will be careful as to what type of tenant – or tenants – will occupy the first floor.

Regional economic conditions have been tough on businesses, but Clark said he hopes the Friedman-Mincer work and several other renovation projects on Garrison Avenue “is a call to action for the business community” to invest in the city.

“It’s not lost on me that whatever dollar we invest today, will be valuable 100 years from now. But these are difficult times, and that’s not lost on me,” Clark explained.

When asked if more jobs are needed to spur investment or more investment is needed to recruit jobs, Clark said his belief is that a quality environment will attract jobs and investment.

“I am a firm believer that if you make a space where people want to be, then the people will come. … To me, quality attracts quality. … To me, a great building has a potential to create mass, which in turn creates gravity which in turn attracts people to it,” Clark explained.

Figures from the Central Business Improvement District – a governmental organization the promotes development in the downtown Fort Smith area – indicate that around $8 million has been invested in the area since 2011.