Fort Smith CBID agrees to help fund ‘Propel Downtown Forward,’ also approves food truck plan

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 461 views 

The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID) has thrown its support behind the Propel Downtown Forward initiative undertaken by 64/6 Downtown, voting unanimously on Tuesday (May 10) to contribute $50,000 to the hiring of a downtown planning consultant and act as a strategic partner in the effort.

64/6 Downtown representatives Mitch Minnick and Talicia Richardson were present at the monthly CBID meeting to discuss recommendations and details of the “final product” the consultant would deliver.

64/6 chose Dallas-based Gateway Planning Group based on the company’s experience with urban design, planning and development specifically related to downtown areas, Minnick told board members. The firm, represented by Scott Polikov who was also the point of contact on Rogers’ downtown planning efforts, has been in business for more than 15 years with offices in Fort Worth and Austin.

Gateway has led the charge on urban planning efforts all across the United States, Minnick noted, with McKinney, Texas, and Owensboro, Ky., being among their other recent clients.

The consultant study is expected to cost around $258,000. 64/6 Downtown had raised $85,000 in private funding prior to their presentation to CBID. With the group’s $50,000 and an additional $10,000 from a private CBID member who said their contribution would be contingent on the board’s approval, Minnick confirmed that a total of $145,000 is now available. He said 64/6 is in talks with other individuals about donating. Richardson said the organization is also pursuing grant opportunities with six applications currently out for review.

When asked about the “final product,” Minnick said it would be “very similar to Rogers, but a little bit smaller.”

Key recommendations in the Rogers master plan are a major rezoning of downtown properties to encourage more residential living; a transformation of alleys into lighted walkways for evening walks; and a transformation of the city park into a plaza for community events, featuring a portable stage that can accommodate different size performers from bands to symphonies.

The Rogers plan also creates four districts within the downtown area identified as the Water Tower District, Victory Row, Frisco Front and the Walnut-Poplar corridors. Each of the districts would have different zoning to provide residents and visitors with different experiences.

“Rogers was starting from scratch while we have the benefit of the city having already completed the Future Fort Smith comprehensive planning effort,” Minnick said. “Gateway will be using data produced from that plan moving forward, so there are a lot of things they don’t have to do on the front end. We expect the final product will produce an idea of what exactly downtown Fort Smith is along with some focus areas or hotspots that talk about what type of development would be best use.”

Gateway will also touch on the best use of public and private dollars for the efforts and offer different recommendations for funding improvements downtown, as well as focus on connectivity to the downtown area (i.e. traffic patterns, trail systems, and how best to connect downtown to the rest of the Fort Smith region).

“Gateway will also help us with streamlining our marketing strategy from a tourism perspective and a local and regional perspective as well,” Richardson added. “They’ve told us that it is important to not only develop a plan, but to also be flexible and fluid and allow it to grow and evolve based on the needs of the city.”

Minnick said 64/6 Downtown has not made a request to the city for funding, and said the next step after the downtown master plan from Gateway is received will be working on the best way to implement it. He expects the effort to be a private/public partnership moving forward.

Other items to be addressed by the study could include but are not limited to identifying gaps in entertainment, housing and attractions.

64/6 Downtown is a nonprofit committed to the revitalization of downtown Fort Smith. Examples of the group’s projects include The Unexpected Project and the under-construction “pocket park,” Garrison Commons.

John McIntosh, executive director of 64/6 Downtown, said Garrison Commons would be free admission and sit on the lot next to the Popped Popcorn Company. There will be a stage at the back of the lot for live music and entertainment as well as a projector system for free movies at night and a space for a local food truck service Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.

McIntosh expects Garrison Commons to open “sometime in early June.”

Also Tuesday, CBID members voted unanimously to approve space for up to three food trucks at the right-of-way near Cisterna Park and the recently installed General Darby Statue.

Proprietors would pay the city a usage fee for two-month installment plans. Should there be greater interest for the space, the city would at first hold a “lottery” to determine placement. The number of spaces allotted may also increase if demand is high enough so that the entire area could one day become a “food court.”

The CBID’s recommendation will now head to the Fort Smith Planning Commission for an official recommendation to the city Board.

The next regular meeting of the CBID will be held on June 21.