Business leaders from the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID) called on city officials to be more proactive in maintenance efforts around the Historic District. The calls echoed a growing frustration of some Fort Smith City Directors surrounding unresolved infrastructure issues that were addressed at a recent study session.
During Tuesday’s (Oct. 20) meeting from the Area Agency on Aging building on Garrison Avenue, CBID Chairman Richard Griffin found it “unsatisfactory” that the property at 22 N. B St., occupied by Fort Smith Railroad Co. was in such disarray. The city’s Neighborhood Services Division had included the property on its report to CBID members, noting they had “sent a courtesy letter [to Fort Smith Railroad Co.] advising of concerns about the items stored in the fenced lot.”
“However,” the report added, “the railroads operate within their rights-of-way under federal authority so no actual enforcement action is being taken and the case file will be closed.”
“I don’t think that’s satisfactory,” Griffin said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Federal law does not usurp our ability to keep our space tidy.”
Wally Bailey, director of development services for the city of Fort Smith, said the city had “difficulty enforcing” any laws pertaining to required maintenance through the local courts, to which CBID member Phil White shot back, “So you’re telling me they don’t have to follow any laws?” When Bailey reiterated there had been difficulties in the past, White advised, “Why don’t we test them on that?”
“I would recommend an attorney’s opinion on that because that’s the easy way out of this. I just don’t believe that federal law would say that they can do anything down there they wanted to on a storage yard they have leased.”
Griffin said he approached the city three years ago with photos showing how disheveled the area looked and that he’d gone back to speak to the Fort Smith Board of Directors about the issue at a recent citizens forum, “and nothing had changed … in three years.”
The discussion was a repeat in principle of Fort Smith Director Tracy Pennartz’ line of questioning for Stan Snodgrass, the city’s director of engineering, at the Oct. 13 study session. Pennartz was particularly concerned with the lack of progress on the widening of Arkansas 45 south of Zero Street (around Planters Road), noting that there hadn’t been movement on the plan in at least 14 years and per the proposed plan presented by Snodgrass, the $200,000 project would be delayed until 2020.
Pennartz acknowledged Snodgrass’ explanation that the state of Arkansas and Sebastian County would have to be involved for anything to get done, but saw it in the city’s best interests to spearhead the conversation.
“Since we know that it behooves us to initiate the conversation with these two other parties, that’s what we should do. To just put your head in the sand on this issue is not the appropriate way to attack it,” Pennartz said.
FINANCES AND MURALS
In other news at Tuesday’s meeting, the CBID reported a loss for the month of $4,386.98, due mostly to the $5,000 funding of the 64.6 Downtown 2015 Mural Project.
Otherwise, financials were in strong shape with a month end balance of $167,966.68. The year-to-date income, derived mostly from a monthly rental maintained by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) and the previous sale of 701 Rogers Ave. to Core Public House, totals $130,748.19 against $59,871.95 in expenses.
As for the “Unexpected Mural Festival,” it will return to Fort Smith next year from Sept. 2-11, 2016, said festival organizer Claire Kolberg, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. No artists have been announced at this time, but murals curator Charlotte Dutoit is expected to return to lead the selection and management of artists for the 2016 event.
The next meeting of the CBID will be held on Nov. 10.