Fort Smith Board gets look at proposed $35 million Riverfront Park master plan

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,482 views 

Dave Roberts, vice-president of the planning department for Crafton Tull & Associates out of Little Rock, presented a $35 million Riverfront Park Master Plan to Fort Smith City Directors at a study session on Tuesday (March 8).

Additionally, City Directors began eyeing an extra layer of negotiation oversight for the procurement of professional services.

Also, the Board reviewed recommendations from the Community Development Advisory Committee (CDAC) for Year 42 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as well as those for Year 23 of the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Roberts presented Directors with an optional $35 million plan to convert a 51-acre plot of land along Riverfront Drive into a community park that would include two adult soccer fields (360-by-240 feet) with bleachers, lights, and a berm seating area; 1,026 parking spaces; a community center; four youth-league soccer fields (150-by-210 feet); and two additional adult soccer fields.

The Master Plan also calls for a fountain area, a multi-use pathway, a pavilion with fireplace, concessions, a playground, and a rubber-surfaced “Miracle League Field” for special needs children.

Additionally, the Park would link across to trails on the opposite side of Riverfront Drive.

Layout of the proposed Fort Smith Riverfront Park master plan.
Layout of the proposed Fort Smith Riverfront Park master plan.

Board members did ask how flexible is the $35 million price tag. Roberts said the $35 million price tag was for the Master Plan as presented as well as all material, construction, and labor, and that the number could come down depending on which features and amenities the city chooses to keep or omit from the finished product.

Also on Tuesday, City Directors pressed Acting City Administrator Jeff Dingman on the process by which department heads negotiate contracts for professional services. The matter stemmed from recent Board discussions expressing a desire to see more competitive bidding in an attempt to lower the city’s costs for such services.

In a memo from Dingman dated March 4, he noted that “state law requires that professional services be secured by means of a qualifications-based selection process and negotiation of a reasonable fee, in contrast to how we secure construction contracts via competitive bids.”

This statement led Directors to inquire about oversight in the negotiation process, to which Dingman admitted that it’s a process generally driven by department heads.

Directors Keith Lau, Tracy Pennartz, and Kevin Settle, expressed interest in “adding eyeballs” to the process because, as Pennartz noted, the concern is that “department heads won’t always have the financial background and expertise to know if they are getting the best deal.”

From past meetings, the issue appears to have originated with retiring Utilities Director Steve Parke, who faced scrutiny from Lau, Pennartz, and Settle, for contracts submitted to the Board related to the $480 million consent decree leveled against the city for violations of the Clean Water Act. Fort Smith is under terms of the consent decree for a 12-year period that will end in 2026. Parke is retiring on April 1.

Leading off Tuesday’s meeting, Genia Smith, chairperson of the Community Development Advisory Committee, presented Directors with recommendations for CDBG and HOME funds disbursements for 2016, noting that the programs would allocate $767,897 and $308,315, respectively.

This $1.076 million allocation makes Fort Smith No. 2 in the state behind Little Rock ($1.8 million) for receipt of funds from both programs. Rounding out the top five are Springdale (No. 3 at $830,595), North Little Rock (No. 4, $738,767), and Pine Bluff (No. 5, $628,766).

Fort Smith’s CDBG funds will be spread across 20 line items, with the largest portion going toward Fort Smith Housing Assistance ($231,801), while HOME funds will go primarily to the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council for help with downpayment assistance and housing construction for low-income families.