River Valley Sports Complex delay, food truck response, trail costs highlight Fort Smith Parks Commission meeting

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 289 views 

Fort Smith officials on Wednesday (Sept. 14) addressed further delays in the River Valley Sports Complex (RVSC) as well as a “not overwhelming” response to the food truck plaza near Cisterna Park.

Also discussed at the monthly meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission were the volatile costs of trail development.

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman handled the updates on food trucks and the RVSC, starting with Cisterna Park.

Since the city committed six spaces for vendor use in July, Dingman said the response has been “not overwhelming.” His update was in response to an inquiry from Millspaugh regarding why the Commission’s idea to turn the area into a hybrid park had yet to come before the Board of Directors. The park idea sought to boost walkability and food truck activity, but lack of interest, Dingman said, has kept the suggestion “lower on the priority list.”

Dingman also expressed some frustration with progress on the RVSC. Comparing it to the Greg Smith River Trail, Dingman said the Trail project was undertaken by the city “using normal procedures, and it had a surety bond in place for protection. This one didn’t have that.”

Dingman said the Board authorized the RVSC “without those types of financial securities in place” and the second of two extensions “expired at the end of July” without completion.

“They (RVSC) are operating under the benevolence of their vendors, and a lot of the work that was supposed to be done by the end of summertime wasn’t done because the contractors and vendors they were relying on for in-kind services had paying work in other places. That’s sort of been the theme of the whole project,” Dingman said. “I did ask them for an updated completion schedule through the fall. They provided me one and indicated being done by mid to late October. But I received an update last week and the success of their update didn’t match the ambition of that schedule.”

Still, Dingman acknowledged feeling “comfortable with the draw schedule,” noting the city of Fort Smith only provides reimbursement on the Complex when a milestone has been met. So far, Dingman said the city has released “about $800,000” of the pledged $1.6 million for the project.

The RVSC was approved by City Directors in 2014 with a target completion date of June 10, 2015. Substantial completion after the second extension pushed the date to July 22, 2016 with an opening day of July 31. RVSC developers are Fort Smith businessman Lee Webb – also chairman of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission – and Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith.

Also Wednesday, in comments to Talk Business & Politics after the meeting, Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert acknowledged concerns of Commissioners regarding the costs of trail development, but said there was no “one size fits all” approach to building a trails system.

As an example, he pointed to the Mill Creek North Trail, which is “heavy on railroad crossings” and must utilize specific materials and directives as a result. The trail so far has a projected construction-only cost of $9.7 million over a four-mile space. “That’s a little out of our reach,” Reinert said.

On the Greg Smith trail, which runs 1.6 miles at a cost of around $2.2 million (or roughly $1.375 million per mile), Reinert said, “we did get a $1 million grant from the Walton Family, and we’ve actually had some donated benches and amenities and statues — those sorts of things. So it depends on what you have,” Reinert said, adding, “as a general rule,” he likes to keep trail development costs at around $500,000 per mile, but it’s challenging to meet that goal every time based on available resources and project objectives.

The Greg Smith River Trail, slated for its grand opening “sometime in October” and within 100 yards of completion, is what Reinert calls the “Eddie Bauer” of trails. “If you’re talking about an asphalt trail and you’re not going to landscape it, then you can keep your costs low. But if you widen it, landscape it, put fountains on it, emergency stations, rest stops — those costs will balloon. It just depends on what you’ve got and where you need to go.”

Finally, Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commissioners said goodbye to two of their own and welcomed two new Commissioners aboard. Billy Bob Williams died on Monday, Sept. 11, one month after resigning his post on the Commission. Williams, who died of natural causes at age 83, was honored in opening remarks from Millspaugh, who praised Williams’ work coaching youth softball during the 1970s and ’80s as well as his 13-year run on the Parks Commission.

“It caught me off guard,” Millspaugh said. “I’ve been thinking about BIlly Bob a lot today. He was a huge supporter of baseball and softball here in the city, and he’s done a lot of things for this Commission.”

Williams also served on the Sebastian County Quorum Court and as a past president of Fort Smith Jaycees.

In another loss to the Commission, Lori Robertson said goodbye to fellow Commissioners after purchasing a home outside the city, rendering her ineligible to serve. Addressing the Commission on Wednesday, she said she would continue to champion its work through her position at Chaffee Crossing as director of marketing. Robertson served four years of a five-year term as Commissioner.

Nancy Raney and former Fort Smith Schools Athletic Director Jim Rowland have filled the open slots.