The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) has enrolled as a non-profit in the newly formed Fort Smith Downtown Business Association (FSDBA). Organizers Pam Kelly and Bobby Aldridge presented a vision for the association of downtown merchants at Tuesday’s (Feb. 21) meeting.
Prior to Tuesday’s unanimous vote to join the FSDBA, commissioner Phil White said it was “refreshing to see a new group with so much of the enthusiasm and efforts that you all are putting into this.”
The FSDBA will begin actively marketing to build its membership with a mission to “develop and promote the downtown area as a culmination of services, shopping, entertainment, dining, history, and values,” Aldridge said, referencing the group’s mission statement. The group will seek funding through corporate sponsorships, membership drives, and hosted events.
Aldridge said the FSDBA hopes to sell downtown as a more “all-inclusive environment” that has something for all age groups. One subtle change the FSDBA is making will be a rebranding of the annual “Pub Crawl” event, calling it instead a “Pub ‘n Grub Trail” to move away from the derogatory imagery that “crawling” from one pub to the next entails. The Pub ‘n Grub will be held March 18, the same day of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade sponsored by the police and fire department unions. The holiday is the day before, but Aldridge said permits could not be obtained to shut down a busy street on a Friday, “and that wouldn’t make sense anyway.”
Kelly said another of the first major events for the FSDBA will be an open house – the kickoff to a monthly seasonal “First Tuesday” series to last from May through October – that will run “part and parcel” with the third annual Steel Horse Rally, scheduled for May 5 and 6.
“Hopefully we can get enough participation to make (First Tuesday) a year-round thing,” Aldridge added.
The FSDBA is also attempting to bring in the Rivervalley Artisan Market to coincide with First Tuesdays. The Market’s organizers announced at a November 2016 meeting of the Fort Smith Parks Commission they had outgrown the Creekmore Park location and intended to relocate downtown for the 2017 season. The Market announced then it hoped to land at Ross-Pendergraft and Compass Park sometime in April.
Membership packages for the FSDBA will be split into three tiers – “social” for individuals, non-profits, and businesses. The social and nonprofit packages will run $50 each per year while the business package will be $100. Membership incentives include a listing on the group’s new godowntownfs.com website, access to the FSDBA monthly meetings, invitations to member events, logo placement on social media posts throughout the year, and the ability to share events through the FSDBA Community Calendar. Businesses will also receive a featured story on FSDBA socials and free advertising opportunities.
The group is another step on the journey to capitalize on Fort Smith’s downtown riverfront. 64.6 Downtown, a FSDBA member, kicked off efforts with the Unexpected Murals project in 2015 and has also commissioned Dallas-based Gateway Planning, the same firm behind the Rogers downtown plan, for a strategic redevelopment plan that should be presented in its final form sometime next month.