Port of Fort Smith receives $584,000 matching grant for bulk storage facility

by Aric Mitchell (aric.mitchell@gmail.com) 406 views 

An example of some of the steel product handled by Five Rivers Distribution from its operations

Five Rivers Distribution has secured a $584,000 grant on behalf of the public Port of Fort Smith. The funding will go towards construction of an $885,000, 30,000-square foot bulk storage facility at 200 Navy Road and will be the first new construction at the site in 37 years.

The matching grant’s stipulation provides $531,000 from the Arkansas Waterways Commission in return for a 10% match, or $53,000, which was supplied by Five Rivers Distribution, said company president Marty Shell, adding that Waterways money is from the “ad valorem tax the state receives from out-of-state companies and businesses that use our barges.”

“The fund had about $1.1 million, and we received $531,000 of that. It’s not Arkansas taxpayer dollars, but barge users who are out-of-state businesses that traverse through the state. That money was going to be spent somewhere in the state, so it’s good that we brought it back to spend it here,” Shell said.

Shell has already invested “a little over $160,000” toward the project for foundational work and engineering costs. Shell said he hoped to get approval from the Fort Smith Port Authority for the deal soon, so he could move construction along and have the building in use by February 2018, but he will have to open bidding to contractors per terms of the public-private partnership. The Authority is an instrument to promote, develop, construct, equip, maintain and operate ports, harbors, river-rail, or barge terminals for the city of Fort Smith.

“It’s really not the revenue so much (driving construction). It’s that if I don’t build it, the chances of our customers going other places are high, because then someone else will provide them the warehouse space. This is to keep existing revenue, but to also grow future tonnage on our waterways,” Shell explained.

Shell said he could have built the facility at Van Buren, which “I already have (five buildings), and they are full. But I’ve been promising something in Fort Smith forever, and for me, it’s personal. My father started the port of Fort Smith in 1970, and it hasn’t had a build since 1980. Here we are in 2017, and I’m tired of people saying the port of Fort Smith doesn’t have any life. I want to show that we’ve still got value in this facility. It’s been a long hard fight and I want to see it completed.”

The port of Fort Smith has two 40,000 square-foot steel buildings used for bulk product storage. There also is an off-site facility Five Rivers Distribution owns a few blocks away that is 17,000 square feet.

“This will be a state-of-the-art bulk storage building — nicest of the nicest you can have for the city of Fort Smith, the Fort Smith Port Authority, and Five Rivers Distribution,” Shell said.

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