64.6 Downtown has named Talicia Richardson as executive director of the Fort Smith-based nonprofit. The job search became a focus after 2017’s approval of the Propelling Downtown Forward (PropelFS) downtown master plan, which Richardson helped organize.
The master plan seeks to create sustainable downtown growth through increased residential and commercial spaces, walkability, and more entertainment and cultural amenities. 64.6 Downtown is the group responsible for The Unexpected art project.
Richardson recently worked as the development officer for the Fort Smith Housing Authority. She is a member of the Fort Smith School Board, a mentor at Howard Elementary and Darby Junior High, and serves on local and state level boards including the Western Arkansas Community Foundation and Arkansas Early Childhood Education Commission. She also recently finished a three-year term on the Fort Smith Planning Commission. Her husband, Jay, is Representative-elect for Arkansas House District 78, which includes parts of downtown Fort Smith.
Richardson’s initial primary responsibility at 64.6 Downtown will be implementation of PropelFS. In a Monday (June 11) press release, 64.6 representative Claire Kolberg noted Richardson’s “first-hand experience in developing the master plan,” adding that her “historical knowledge and insight are instrumental in application of the plan.” Prior to the announcement, John McIntosh handled many of the directorial duties. He will continue to lead production and development for 64.6 Downtown.
Kolberg told Talk Business & Politics she and McIntosh “will continue to work on the projects and initiatives as we have in the past. For example, The Unexpected, programming spaces (such as Garrison Commons), etc.” Kolberg said the Richardson hire “is evidence that we have a lot of momentum, and we are looking forward to keeping that momentum going.”
In a December 2017 interview, McIntosh discussed plans for the director role, observing 64.6 Downtown hoped to have the director role filled by the end of the first quarter of 2018. At the time, there was an approved job description.
“Right now we’re working on three-year commitments for funding for that position. When we have those three-year commitments in the bank or pledged, then we’ll start looking,” McIntosh said, adding it would not take long to find the right fit. “It could be somebody local. It could be somebody from out of town. It will be a private sector job as they will be working for 64.6.”
In addition to an urban development background, “They need to have a background in dealing with city and state governments. They need to be aware of grant opportunities. In Fort Smith, they need to be able to build relationships. Relationships are very important in this area because it builds trust. Getting a well-rounded applicant like that would be a big winner for us.”
In January, commissioners from the city’s Central Business Improvement District — a public commission — approved an annual $6,000 commitment for three years for the hiring of an executive director to help implement PropelFS. The $258,000 plan authored by Dallas-based Gateway Planning had been “collecting dust,” according to former CBID chairman Richard Griffin, 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.
Richardson’s role is a mostly privately-funded position. According to 64.6 Dowtown organizer Mitch Minnick at the same January CBID meeting, the position “would require between $100,000 and $125,000 per year,” but no hard salary or benefits information is available.
In a Monday interview, Richardson said she felt as though her “hat was in ring from the initial stages of the Propelling Downtown Forward plan.” She was “very involved in the inital stages of fundraising for the actual plan and coordinating with Gateway. It was like my baby, and I wanted to make sure the things we worked so hard to pull together were executed on.”
That said, she didn’t immediately push for the job, but said she was ready to work with whomever 64.6 Downtown hired.
“When I was approached by a few people asking if I would be interested in it, I said, ‘Why not?’ It’s a great opportunity for me to see the plan through in terms of execution and not just planning.”
Richardson said she wants to “work closely with some of the initiatives at Chaffee Crossing” to establish “more continuity across our community so that we’re not just segments.”
“There are just so many magnificent things that organization has done, and I look forward to working with Lorie (Robertson) and Ivy (Owen). The things they’ve been doing in that particular area — we would be foolish in not partnering with them and seeing how we can complement each other because it all feeds into the entire city and region.”
Much of Richardson’s early responsibilities will include fundraising, she said, particularly thinking of new and innovative ways to get the community involved.
“We are a very philanthropic community at the public and the private levels. At the same time, we don’t want to tap out our resources. So part of my goal will be to think of some innovative and creative ways for others to get involved through in-kind donations, one-off projects, crowdfunding, and other different ways to get buy-in from the entire community.”