64.6 director seeks more public-private deals, cites ‘more potential’ for downtown Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 532 views 

The city of Fort Smith is doing more to improve the image of downtown Fort Smith, but more can be accomplished with strategic public-private partnerships, according to Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown.

Richardson, speaking Tuesday (Sept. 25) during a study session of the Fort Smith Board of Directors, said the soon-to-open Riverfront Drive Skate and Bike Park is a good example of how the city can work with private dollars to improve downtown Fort Smith.

The park will feature a small track for strider bikes and children still on training wheels. There will be intermediate and advanced tracks for teens and experienced riders.

In February, the city approved a $600,000 contract to be paid through private funds with American Ramp Company for construction of the park and its contents. The park is part of a public-private partnership with various private interests that include but aren’t limited to Steve Clark of Propak Logistics, Sam Sicard of First National Bank of Fort Smith, and Bill Hanna of Hanna Oil & Gas. An undisclosed portion of the contract amount comes from the Walton Family Foundation as well. Sicard — through FNB — was the initial contributor and the only one to disclose the amount ($100,000, made public on Oct. 13, 2017).

The park will feature a small track for strider bikes and children still on training wheels. There will be intermediate and advanced tracks for teens and experienced riders. A formal grand opening of the park is set for noon, Oct. 13.

“We have the potential to create more” development in downtown along the riverfront and other areas, with pop-businesses and commerce related to biking, skating and other outdoor activities, Richardson told the Board and city staffers at the study session.

More, according to Richardson, includes working with the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation to remove and replace downtown trash containers that are rusted or covered with graffiti. She thanked department employees about being open to replacing unsightly trash containers. Richardson also thanked the city’s parks department for its work to more actively manage vegetation in downtown Fort Smith, including trimming trees around pole lights to improve visibility at night.

However, more can be done, she said. Graffiti on buildings, bird feces on sidewalks and trash inside vacant buildings needs to be addressed, with Richardson encouraging Board members to do more to push for property code enforcement. She said city officials should work “in concert and collaboration” with property owners so that improvements were proactive rather than punitive.

City Director Keith Lau, who is a developer with a project ongoing in downtown Fort Smith, asked Richardson if 64.6 or the Central Business Improvement District (CBID) had identified costs for future projects, potential cost sharing options, or possible funding ideas.

Richardson said the CBID is planning a Nov. 8 work session to work on ideas and funding options, and plans for “quick wins within six months” to show ongoing progress in downtown Fort Smith.

“We have to be very strategic on which items we implement and how we grow the area,” Richardson said.

Richardson encouraged the Board and city staff to attend the Oct. 30 Invest Fort Smith summit to be held at Temple Live! in downtown Fort Smith. 64.6 Downtown partnered with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce to host Invest Fort Smith, a one-day summit designed to build awareness of downtown economic development opportunities. The key objectives of the summit will include discussion of “best practices, lessons learned, and prospects within downtown Fort Smith.”

Ticket prices are $25 per person, and the event will include two break-out sessions, panel discussions, and a lunch. The press release describes Invest Fort Smith as “ideal for property owners, developers, small business owners, banks, non-profits, construction, architects, realtors, and city/state public officials.”

Richardson said connecting entrepreneurs with downtown property owners and potential investors could do much to build on the momentum of growth in downtown Fort Smith.

“There are a lot of great people in this city, but they need assistance,” Richardson said.