Talicia Richardson of the Propel Downtown Forward initiative and 64.6 Downtown told Central Business Improvement District (CBID) commissioners that they are satisfied so far with progress on a strategic development plan for downtown Fort Smith.
Dallas-based Gateway Planning has been hired to help with the strategy initiative.
Richardson said that there will be a stakeholders meeting next week and another during the week of The Unexpected murals festival from Sept. 2-5, leading up to a public forum and the first presentation of Gateway Planning’s work on Sept. 14. No times or venues have been announced, though Richardson said that information will soon be public.
Richardson said Gateway completed a “condition assessment” on downtown Fort Smith to determine “where we are as a community, what they saw as far as traffic or lack thereof, and what they were going to focus on.”
At the September event, Richardson said Gateway will present an updated “framework map” incorporating all suggestions collected since Gateway began working with city organizers in May. Of the “stakeholders” efforts led by Propel Downtown Forward so far, 64.6 Downtown sent out 131 invitations and had 122 attend initial meetings, “so we had an overwhelming response of people actually wanting to attend our meetings,” Richardson said, adding that it led to “27 pages of notes.”
In those notes, Richardson said, there were ideas to spur downtown activities, address transportation issues that impact the area’s walkability, and suggestions for how to incorporate any new developments while holding to the vision of Fort Smith’s comprehensive plan. While Gateway will not be back in town until next week, Richardson said that one of the positives of working with them is they have told Propel Downtown Forward “don’t wait for us.”
“‘If you see things that you can do to kind of expedite the process, do it.’ For example,” Richardson said, “we had a one-on-one meeting as citizens regarding our crosswalks on Garrison. Because we anticipate a lot of traffic with the Unexpected, there’s no time like the present to try to get involved and make some changes. So luckily, Jeff (Dingman, deputy city administrator) and the city team worked with us to update the city crosswalks and leave more of a time delay, so pedestrians have time to cross Garrison.”
The city will add a countdown timer to show how much time pedestrians have to walk to the other side of the street as a result of those talks. Richardson continued: “We also met with the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department to get a better understanding of their processes – how the city feeds into that and what we can do to be more solution-focused as opposed to coming in and just giving a list of things that they need to do. So it’s been very good for us as far as this process is concerned.”
For the next two weeks, Propel Downtown Forward will meet with Gateway and city leaders as well as groups like 64.6 Downtown, the U.S. Marshals Museum, and students from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS). The forum in mid-September will allow the public “to come in and see the updated plan as far as framework design, what Gateway sees as opportunities for us, and to get people’s input,” Richardson said.
In June, CBID commissioners contributed $50,000 to the hiring of Gateway Planning based on a recommendation from 64.6 Downtown, the group behind the murals festival and development of the new Garrison Commons Park. Gateway led development on the Rogers, Ark., downtown initiative, and their Fort Smith fee is $258,000.
Gateway is aiming for 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.
Also Tuesday, commissioners agreed to move forward on a $29,375 plan to add shade structures at Compass Park in a purchase that will be split 50/50 with the city of Fort Smith. The goal is to make the downtown “splash pad” more of a “destination spot,” said CBID commissioner Phil White, leader of the effort, by adding shades and picnic tables for families in time for the spring of 2017.
The next meeting of the CBID will be held on Sept. 20.