Gateway Planning says strategic plan will ‘accelerate momentum’ for downtown Fort Smith

by Aric Mitchell ( 938 views 

Gateway Planning revealed a detailed draft for downtown Fort Smith’s strategic redevelopment at a special study session with city officials Tuesday night, Jan. 31, from the Riverfront Pavilion.

Scott Polikov of the Dallas-based firm behind Rogers, Ark.’s downtown redevelopment said the initiative would “accelerate momentum” on private investment.

“In virtually every place similar to downtown Fort Smith, we saw tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars of additional development occur in the first five to 10 years. That happened in Owensburg, Kentucky. It happened in Rogers, Arkansas. It happened in a small community called Roanoke, Texas, by Fort Worth.”

In Roanoke, Polikov said, there were “five or six restaurants that opened within a six-block stretch of one another” shortly after the plan was in place “that are today doing $3 million to $5 million per year in revenue,” adding, “I think within just a few years you’ll see really significant development activity happening” once public and private entities begin implementation.

Reinforcing that statement, private stakeholder Steve Clark of Propak Logistics – who has already invested millions in the downtown area – observed that much of the progress would not happen “in a linear fashion” and would be occurring “at the same time.”

Plans revealed on Tuesday echoed much of what was revealed at a Sept. 15, 2016 public forum. Two of the major items Gateway identified as needing to be connected and built upon are the Riverfront and the U.S. Marshals Museum. Other suggestions included reconnecting Garrison Avenue to the Belle Grove Historic District and Riverfront; reinventing B Street as a two-way that would accommodate trucks and foot traffic; installing more one- and two-story restaurants or retail adjacent to the U.S. Marshals Museum; and opening more space to food kiosks and cafes.

The plan also called for more diverse residential types, open spaces, and trails, and less truck traffic, though the efforts to reduce, Polikov noted, should be “addressed through a detailed and cooperative process” that would include all stakeholders, including the Arkansas Highway Transportation Department, the city of Fort Smith’s engineering department, the U.S. Marshals Museum, and the trucking industry.

Polikov also suggested a board governance format for keeping things on track — as in a specific board made up of public and private representatives to oversee downtown plan implementation. “I think when you see the document you’ll be able to make better decisions than we could,” Polikov said.

As the process continues, Gateway will also work with the city to find available dollars for infrastructure and to attract private investment.

“(Downtown) will need additional dollars from the private sector, but our job is to make it attractive to them,” Polikov said, adding that “great downtowns move forward because investors see the potential and are then reinforced by other investors.”

64.6 Downtown contracted with Gateway Planning for eight months on a strategic development plan in 2016. The total contract was for $258,000, $50,000 of which came from the city’s Central Business Improvement District (CBID). The remainder was provided through private donations. Gateway will present a final more detailed implementation strategy by the end of March.