64.6 Downtown, Gateway Planning set downtown development stakeholders meeting for Sept. 15

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 128 views 

Dallas-based Gateway Planning will unveil preliminary maps for Fort Smith’s strategic downtown development on Sept. 15 during a meeting planned to to be held on the first floor of the historic Friedman-Mincer building, located at the intersection of Towson and Garrison Avenues.

The one-hour presentation will be open to the public at 6:30 p.m., according to “Propel Downtown Forward” organizers Talicia Richardson and Mitch Minnick, who spoke with Talk Business & Politics about the meeting format and expectations. Minnick said the first part of the meeting will be informal.

“People will come in and look at the maps Gateway has produced to this point. For the latter half, Gateway will do a short formal presentation talking about what they’ve found so far and what they see going forward.”

“We don’t want it to be too drawn-out,” Richardson said, noting Gateway representatives  will attend to solicit feedback and attendees will also be able to fill out comment cards at the event or leave their suggestions on 64.6 Downtown social media channels (i.e. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook).

Minnick said Gateway had been “complimentary” about the work Fort Smith has done thus far with its existing attractions and its Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan.

“The comment they’ve made to us is that we’ve had a lot of good projects happening individually, but there wasn’t really anything connecting those projects. Basically, they’re happening in their own silos. We have asked, and what Gateway is working on, is providing us that connectivity so we can try to maximize our momentum moving forward.”

While not detailing specifics – instead leaving that for the meeting itself – Richardson said she thinks stakeholders “will really be pleased thus far” with Gateway’s efforts, particularly as they relate to the city’s aforementioned Comprehensive Plan.

“Gateway went through the Comprehensive Plan with a fine tooth comb and looked at the matrix. The city spent a substantial amount of money, and it’s a recent plan, so it didn’t make sense for it to be recreated,” she said.

The Future Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan was adopted by the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Dec. 16, 2014, after a steering committee consisting of several area residents and business leaders was selected in 2013 to help guide the process. Richardson said what Gateway will offer “is a result of a more defined piece of the Comprehensive Plan.”

“The citizens have already spoken, and we’re just taking that plan a step further and trying to implement.”

The Gateway Planning contract is largely supported with private funds. It runs for approximately 10 months at a cost of $258,000 with the final goal of a fully implementable strategic development plan, which should come before the Fort Smith Board of Directors for approval in the spring of 2017. Including a $50,000 donation from the City of Fort Smith’s Central Business Improvement District (CBID), 64.6 Downtown has raised $214,000 of the contract amount so far. The remainder of capital has come from private sources, Minnick said.

“These are multiple companies throughout the community, and we’re speaking in generalities here, but there are many that do not have a geographical presence in the downtown community. However, they recognize that a vibrant downtown is important to the recruitment and retention of jobs.”

Gateway Planning is the company behind Rogers, Ark.’s downtown redevelopment. It plans to drop a review draft incorporating suggestions from the Sept. 15 meeting and any received afterward by the end of 2016.