CBID approves money for Propelling Downtown Forward director, welcomes ‘food court’ expansion

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 817 views 

Propelling Downtown Forward and a new “food court” at Garrison Commons Park were main topics at Tuesday’s (Jan. 16) meeting of the Central Business Improvement District (CBID).

CBID commissioners approved an annual $6,000 commitment for three years for the hiring of an executive director to help implement the Propelling Downtown Forward strategic plan crafted by Dallas-based Gateway Planning and approved in 2017.

The $258,000 plan, in CBID chairman Richard Griffith’s eyes, had been “collecting dust” since its approval, and would likely continue to do so if it didn’t have a full-time administrator to speak up for downtown interests at the local and state levels.

The director – a privately-funded position with 64.6 Downtown – would require “between $100,000 and $125,000 per year,” according to 64.6 Downtown organizer Mitch Minnick, who had not intended to make a funding request from CBID on Tuesday. When pressed for a total of what he would eventually ask of the group, Minnick said “around $10,000,” noting 64.6 Downtown understood the limited revenue of the CBID Board – it has around $83,000 in unrestricted funds – and he had hoped to raise as much money privately before coming forward with an ask.

Minnick said private nonprofit organization Strategic Community Investments (SCI) already had committed $25,000 annually to the cause and a second anonymous donor had committed an undisclosed amount. Minnick said 64.6 Downtown hopes to have the funds raised in the first quarter of 2018 with a hire made by “no later than the summer of 2018.” The job posting includes all expectations and requirements. It is available at Indeed, on 64.6 Downtown social media channels, and on other “relevant job boards,” Minnick said.

Also Tuesday, Garrison Commons announced a second food truck would soon open at the downtown park. Sweet Tea Kitchen & Coffee Spot will join Pie Scout, a pies-whole/pie-by-the-slice truck that launched in early January.

Sweet Tea Kitchen & Coffee Spot is the creation of Barbara Dene, who previously operated the establishment from farmers’ markets and festivals. Dene serves gluten-, sugar-, and GMO-free foods (fresh sandwiches, soups, and broths) as well as from-scratch fruit butters, sauces, mayos, and dressings.

Inclusion alongside Pie Scout establishes a “food court” at the park per city ordinance, and it may not be the last addition in the months ahead, according to John McIntosh of 64.6 Downtown. McIntosh said following a recommendation of the city to include something “seasonal” for a third location, Dene will add a separate trailer for the sale of seasonal fresh fruits.

The boost in food truck activity is thanks in large part to OG&E’s efforts to move overhead transmission lines underground, McIntosh said. In December 2017, McIntosh told Talk Business & Politics the move “will make it much easier for a food truck to come in and out” and that he was “looking at a permanent location for a food trailer in there, and also to have Pie Scout in and out, and sort of have a farm-to-table feel.” Sweet Tea Kitchen & Coffee Spot is that permanent location.

McIntosh said the new setup will be “safer and more attractive and will serve both sides of the alley with good access to power that will be underground.”

Aside from the food trucks, Garrison Commons will see increased activities for the city’s “budding” musician community, McIntosh said, noting that he intends for the park to have “a lot more music programming starting in the spring.”

“It’s a great place for live music, so we’re working with a couple of groups. There is a musician colony in Fort Smith growing of young professionals who are really good at their craft. We want to give them a venue that’s affordable, safe, fun, and public. I’m being aggressive in reaching out to them. I’m not going to let them lay back. Oftentimes, they just want to be offered a venue and offered some contacts. I’d like to have band showcases in Garrison Commons, and give every new band in town an opportunity to play there, so we’re going to make it available.”

McIntosh’s “channel” to the Fort Smith musical community is Eric Williams of Garrison Music Company.

“I’ve had this conversation with Eric about helping me do that. And sometimes all it takes is for someone to say, ‘What will it take to get you to do this?,’ and they’re jumping on board.”