The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded an $800,000 grant to the city of Fort Smith for “critical sewer system improvements needed to accommodate business development and expansion in the Warehouse district of Chaffee Crossing,” the department said in a press release on Wednesday (Dec. 20).
“We commend the city of Fort Smith for working to accommodate the needs of the local business community,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Regional Affairs Dennis Alvord said in a statement. “The improved infrastructure will ensure that the region’s businesses have the capacity they need to grow and thrive.”
The department said the Warehouse District “holds great potential for job creation and expansion by small- to mid-sized businesses,” but aged and under-capacity sewer lines as well as inadequate fire protection “are severely hampering redevelopment efforts which could result in new jobs for the community.”
Sasha Grist, executive director of Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD), told Talk Business & Politics the improvements would include bringing fire protection and sewer lines “up to the city of Fort Smith and Arkansas Health and Fire Code standards.” Fourteen fire hydrants will be replaced with modern hydrants, and sewer lines will be “either upgraded to eliminate infiltration and inflow or will be replaced.”
Grist continued: “At least one sewer line will have to be rebuilt at a different location to comply with the Arkansas Health Department requirement of separation between a water and sewer line. New service will be extended from the main to the user. The updated water/sewer will provide infrastructure that is needed to retain and attract new businesses.”
The funding is expected to create or retain around 110 jobs, according to Ivy Owen, executive director for grantee Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA). The funds are part of a 50/50 matching grant with the remaining $800,000 contribution evenly divided between FCRA and the city of Fort Smith for a total of $1.6 million in sewer system improvements. Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken told Talk Business & Politics “the award is effective as of today.”
“We have to start construction within 24 months of the award and complete all work within 60 months,” Geffken said, adding the grant award is “a symbol of excellent cooperation” among the three participating entities — the city, FCRA, and WAPDD — “to better Fort Smith.”
The sewer improvements are not related to the estimated $480 million federal consent decree the city is working through. When asked if administration has identified any grants to assist on those projects, Geffken said the city was “looking for grants and low-interest financing” but did not identify specifics.
As for the Chaffee improvements, Owen credited Mickle Wagner Coleman for identifying the sewers that needed the most attention, adding “The businesses hooked to those sewer lines were identified, and we went to each one and said, ‘If we do this, will you retain and/or add jobs, and they said they would.”
Owen said the Warehouse District businesses that will most benefit from the federal grant will include Diades Investments, Industrial Precast Industries, Rowe Sheet Metal, and Blake Construction, all part of the five buildings at 7401-7429 Ellis Street. Scott Archer, principal engineer at HSA Engineering Consulting Services and a Fort Smith businessman, filed in June a $2.297 million permit for the remodel and has plans for a pizza pub and brewery at the locations. Owen said FCRA would host a groundbreaking ceremony for the improvements on Jan. 22, 2018.
Owen also credited WAPDD as being instrumental in identifying multiple grant opportunities for Chaffee Crossing and handling the application process.
”They were very involved in this. They were the ones who helped us put the grant application together, and they put together the opportunity as a whole. They do a tremendous job for this area in terms of keeping up with what’s going on grant-wise and help us far beyond what I can ever tell you. If we had to pay them, it would be a lot of money.”
WAPDD recently completed an EDA project with the city of Fort Smith and the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine at Chaffee Crossing that included $1.2 million from the agency, part of a $3.64 million total investment. The proposal included assistance with water/sewer, roads, and a parking lot.