Downtown Frisco Station reuse request explained to CBID by the National Park Service

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 594 views 

Former Frisco Railroad Station in downtown Fort Smith.

The historic Frisco Railroad Station in downtown Fort Smith could soon receive a facelift, but it’s not yet clear what use it will have once completed.

At Thursday’s (June 30) meeting of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID), Lisa Conard Frost, superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) in Fort Smith, approached downtown business leaders with a “request for expression of interest” (RFEI) regarding adaptive reuse for the facility.

Also, commissioners received an update from Core Brewing Co. on its plans for a Fort Smith-based distillery and trade school location on Rogers Avenue.

The 19,600-square foot Frisco Station is part of Fort Smith’s 37-acre National Historic Site, which includes the remains of the First Fort, the Second Fort, Commissary Building, the Trail of Tears Overlook, the barracks, jails, courthouse, and gallows.

Frisco was built in 1903 as a passenger and freight depot for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway Company. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is the last remaining of several railroad stations that were built in Fort Smith. Its period of significance, Frost said, was from 1875 to 1974.

Frost estimates $1.028 million in renovations will be needed to get the station up to modern architectural integrity while maintaining the historic nature of the building. Included in that total would be $200,000 for an updated wet suppression system; $168,000 for plumbing system and fixtures; $50,000 for a new HVAC system; $250,000 in updates to the elevator; $60,000 to bring the building into compliance with the ADA; and $150,000 apiece for interior and exterior improvements.

The RFEI essentially opens the floor to proposals for how the building should be renovated and reused moving forward, giving interested parties an opportunity to review the property, facilities, and park area and to submit their concept(s) of future use for the facility in accordance with the overall park’s purpose.

In the 1970s, the building’s interior was used as a disco, a restaurant, a medical office, and – until 2013 – as the U.S. Marshals Museum offices. In a memo to CBID commissioners ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Frost said the site had potential as a spa hotel or bed and breakfast, or for retail operations and amenities. It would also be ideal as a gallery, market, or restaurant, she said.

The NPS may choose all or part of a RFEI response for future development considerations. This choice would then be advertised to the public, allowing qualified candidates to submit operation proposals.

“There are very limited circumstances under which the building may be reused by a non-NPS entity without a public solicitation,” Frost said. “The precise process for soliciting and selecting proposals will depend on the nature of the business opportunity and the legal instrument under which the proposal is issued.”

The “legal instrument” for this sort of project commonly falls into two categories. First, a “concessions contract” is awarded through a prospectus process and issued to provide necessary and appropriate visitor services within a park area. Concessioners pay, to the NPS, a franchise fee for privileges granted under the contract. The franchise fee is determined through a franchise fee analysis, and consideration of revenue to the NPS is subordinate to protecting park resources and providing services to park visitors.

The franchise fee “also takes into consideration that the Concessioner has a reasonable opportunity for a net profit related to capitol invested and the obligations of the contract,” Frost said, adding that concession contracts “include compensation for capital investments in the property.”

She continued: “Concession contracts are generally 10 years or less, but may be awarded for a term of up to 20 years if warranted by the contract terms and conditions, including required capital improvements.”

Second, a “lease contract” is typically awarded through a Request for Proposal, and can be used for any lawful purpose with some required determinations identified in 36 CFR 18 § 18.4.

“Fair market value rent is required for leases. However, requirements under the lease for the lessee to restore, rehabilitate, or otherwise improve the property are taken into consideration when determining the fair market value rent, as well as possible restrictions on the use of the property,” Frost explained.

Additionally, tax credits are available for rehabilitation of certain historic structures pursuant to capital investment requirements. A lease term may be up to 60 years in duration.

For interested parties, site visits are scheduled by appointment from July 15 through Sept. 16, and appointments must be scheduled through Frost by email. Final responses are due by Dec. 15, 2016.

Also Thursday, Jay Richardson, Core Brewing’s director of sales and marketing, provided an update on the company’s purchase of the location at 1000 Rogers Ave., former site of the printing plant for the Southwest Times Record.

Core is in the process of turning the building into a distillery and trade school it plans to open for full operations by the end of 2017. However, Richardson said, the project has run into a small “standstill.”

“We’re waiting to get the outside painted and finished a little bit,” he explained. “The goal was to get it prepared for the Unexpected (Downtown Murals project), but we don’t think we’re going to meet that timeframe, so we’re kind of waiting to see how that rolls.”

Richardson expects the “cooperage” part of the facility to be open by the end of this year with the distillery to follow in 2017. No brewing will take place on site, and Richardson said there are “a couple of restaurants in Northwest Arkansas” that have committed to opening up on the premises.

Finally, the Friends of Recreation Trails (F.O.R.T.) unveiled a six-foot tall sign that it plans to place along the Greg Smith River Trail. The sign will include a 12-foot base and weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.