The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID) met with Dallas-based Gateway Planning on Tuesday (July 19) to discuss the urban design plan for downtown Fort Smith, and one thing immediately became clear.
It’s all about the trucks; as in large semi-trucks and trailers that rumble down Garrison Avenue.
After all the brainstorming and talk of adding marinas, RV parks, and “walkable space,” CBID commissioner Phil White summed up the two-hour meeting well, stating, “It all comes back to trucks. Every idea that we’ve talked about for years, it comes back – well, if you’re going to put kids down there; if you’re going to make use of that area from the riverfront and the amphitheater, and have activities and people moving around – it’s back to trucks. We address the trucks, and all these other ideas are so much easier.”
White’s frustrations with a lack of progress on reducing truck traffic was palpable in the other CBID commissioners, particularly Rodney Ghan, who got into what was at times a heated discussion with Gateway Planning’s Scott Polikov after Polikov said businesses downtown responsible for much of the truck traffic were wanting to work with CBID on reducing their loads and finding alternative routing.
“We did have a meeting with the coalition – some of the companies that drive through downtown – four months ago, and we never heard back from them,” Ghan said, adding that previous conversations included shutting off deliveries after 6 p.m. to reduce congestion and noise levels so the downtown night life scene could operate free-and-clear.
“We had this conversation with these companies, and they never did anything, so I’m curious if they have a plan of action,” Ghan said.
Polikov admitted there was no “plan of action,” though trucking companies in the area “have already started to change some of their routes” and some of the key leaders were coming aboard and could “probably influence others.”
“You’ve created some ripples in a positive way,” Polikov said. “The leadership in the industry has got to figure out internally how they feel about things. They know something needs to be done, but there’s not a consensus right now. They’re trying to figure out what their position is.”
Ghan reiterated that it sounded like the “same conversation we’ve had before” and trucking companies in the area were “supposed to come to the table a long time ago, and I get frustrated with that. Should we go back and talk to them currently or wait until you produce your findings?”
Polikov asserted that CBID commissioners shouldn’t now take another run at the industry but instead “let us do our magic.”
White empathized with Ghan’s frustrations, saying that “we’ve been fighting this battle for many years,” adding that he didn’t feel the CBID could have faith in the industry to reach a consensus on how to address the issue.
“That’s my point,” Polikov said. “You want leadership from that industry to agree to those changes, so that at least a core of the industry is saying, ‘we’re all on board, and you can choose to follow or not to follow.’ There will be late adopters, but this way, the ones not on board will marginalize themselves.”
Polikov continued: “Everybody involved wants a solution. You haven’t received a response because they’re not sure what that should be. Part of what we want to do is help you figure out how to do it where it actually sticks.”
The CBID contributed $50,000 to the hiring of Gateway Planning, which led development on the Rogers, Ark., downtown initiative. 64.6 Downtown, the group behind the murals festival and development of the new Garrison Commons Park in downtown Fort Smith, selected Gateway to develop a strategic development plan for the downtown area.
Gateway will work toward a public forum in mid-September and a draft plan by the end of the year that will head to the city’s planning commission for review. The Fort Smith Board of Directors will be presented with a final draft in the spring of 2017.