CBID bemoans lack of vision, planning for downtown Fort Smith development

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 83 views 

A "retreat" of Fort Smith's Central Business Improvement District commissioners Tuesday (Oct. 21) morning explored bringing more events to the district and forming a master land use plan for the downtown area.

CBID Commissioner Sam Sicard made the case for more events in the downtown area in simple terms.

"We're not even utilizing the assets we have," he said, pointing to the riverfront amphitheater and other venues throughout the downtown area.

Richard Griffin, chair of the CBID, said there was "no marketing strategy" for downtown and the riverfront, specifically. Commissioner Steve Clark noted that the amphitheater and other downtown parks properties needed a qualified individual who would not simply wait for event organizers to contact the city, but would be actively recruiting shows and events to the region.

John McIntosh, a former board member of the Second Street Live organization, was on hand for the meeting and told commissioners about the necessity of having an individual to recruit acts to Fort Smith.

"There hasn't been anybody proactively seeking promotors or seeking concert series like they have at the AMP (Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers). … In order to make it more viable to use as an existing asset, we need to have a discussion with the city about who's in charge and what authority does someone have to book rather than just waiting for someone to call and say there's a date. Well, I would like to promote a concert in the park.”

McIntosh said for downtown growth to happen that will drive everyone from young to old, a different type of management style had to come to the amphitheater and other parks assets in the downtown area. And while McIntosh said the amphitheater's management was key to growing downtown, Clark said there is a waiting list for apartments in the downtown area which is a sign that there is interest in the district.

In past meetings, there has been talk regarding how to stimulate and grow the downtown and bring development. Commissioner Phil White took those ideas, along with the marketing strategy discussed Tuesday and other concepts such as a motorcycle rally coming to Fort Smith and said he would like to see the CBID get focused or set priorities since downtown development has continued to lag behind the rest of Fort Smith in recent years.

"But maybe it's our fault because we have not prioritized to keep our eye on the ball," he said.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman told the commissioners that different areas of the CBID – which stretches from Sparks Hospital to the riverfront – have different needs and not all areas will have the same focus. That was when meeting facilitator Rusty Myers told the commission that he believed the downtown neighborhood was favorable for development if the commission could effectively articulate its vision for the downtown area.

"In my opinion, there's not been a clear tying together of these projects," he explained, adding that a clear vision for downtown is what kept companies like ArcBest from relocating in the downtown area based on discussions he has had with corporate executives.

White proposed creating a master land use plan for the district that would answer the question of vision.

"If you had a master plan and say, 'Here's what we've adopted and here's what will be over there…' I think that's something that's needed. We're visionaries and we have a lot of ideas.”

The only problem, Griffin said, is funding such a plan or study.

"We have no revenue other than the empty building … so that's a fair subject that we always run from. How do we fund?”

While there were no set policies to come out of Tuesday's session, Myers said funding solutions could be found.

"It may not be up to you. There are groups out there, and they are there, then some of these things could be assigned to them if they're willing to pickup and run with it."