Downtown developers eye event-based open houses, receive an update on ‘The Bakery’

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 962 views 

Commercial open houses and future plans for The Bakery event center were the focus of a Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID) meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 18).

Leading off, 64.6 Downtown Executive Director Talicia Richardson said she hoped to get buy-in on the open house concept from building owners in the city’s CBID, particularly those along Garrison Avenue where many of the city’s downtown events take place.

In a brief presentation to commissioners, Richardson said 64.6 Downtown hoped to pair open houses with major events and be a “conduit” for entrepreneurs looking for a downtown footprint. Richardson latched onto the idea at a Main Street Arkansas conference earlier this month, particularly pairing open houses with events like First Tuesday and The Unexpected.

“I think some of our property owners don’t know how to market downtown collectively as far as all of the amenities that are present. We want to try to help facilitate that. We are not receiving any kickbacks or anything like that. If people come to us, we want to do whatever we can to help facilitate the growth and show them the big picture,” Richardson said.

Richardson told Talk Business & Politics after the meeting that pairing the open houses with events would give property owners an opportunity to display their buildings and potential tenants a chance to see the possibilities. It also would benefit brokers.

“You have a captive audience right here. Hundreds of people at a downtown event. Why not open the doors and offer something to get people to come in and see your space?”

She continued: “They could start imagining a space. It could be a dance studio. It could be an upper-level apartment loft. It could be a co-sharing space where you could lease out multiple spaces but have that one big area that gives you a feel like you’re in a downtown area in New York if you will. … If you’re used to one storefront, one retailer, but you have a 1,500 square foot property — well, what if that retail space only needs 800 square feet because they only have that much product? One individual (at the conference) said in one of his storefronts he had a florist on the front side and a dental office on the back.”

Too often, Richardson said, property owners can get locked into a mindset that “this is a restaurant and this is the footprint of this restaurant and so we need a restaurant this size, as opposed to having two restaurants in this particular spot that could share a commercial space — a kitchen, perhaps. The focus is how do you increase your revenues by reimagining the layout of your space? If you have a property owner who is forward-thinking enough and one of those retailers is gone, they won’t have an empty building.”

Also Tuesday, CBID commissioners received an update on landscaping details for The Bakery, the now-official name of a project presented in June that held plans for a taproom and brewery at the site of the former Shipley Baking facility (63 S. Sixth St.). The building is owned by CBID Chairman Bill Hanna of Hanna Oil & Gas.

Studio 6 Architects are behind the design development work. Ellis Landscape Services drafted the landscape plan, which includes a paved courtyard adjacent to South Seventh Street The plan shows the courtyard landscaped with a variety of shrubs, ornamental grasses, flowers, trees, and grass areas. Other features of the courtyard include a covered deck, stage area, bocce ball court, and benches.

In June, the CBID approved a variance application from KMW Properties to allow demolition of approximately 1,500 square feet of the building and to install architectural metal wall panels on the west, south, and east facades. When the variances were approved, the landscape plan was not finalized.

Hanna, in a previous interview with Talk Business & Politics, said he was in talks with a Northwest Arkansas brewery. While Hanna wasn’t at liberty to name the tenant, sources on condition of anonymity said it would be Bentonville-based Bike Rack Brewing Co. Talk Business & Politics reached out to the company to ask about possibly locating in the Hanna property.

“Nothing is official yet but we are definitely interested in being a part of the exciting growth in downtown Ft. Smith and hope to be involved soon,” a Bike Rack official noted in the response.

On Friday (Sept. 14), Steven Outain, a co-owner of the company and its chief development officer, filed a lawsuit against the other co-owners as well as the company, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and disregard of the company’s operating agreement. Outain is seeking $2 million in punitive damages. Individuals listed as defendants are Bike Rack’s other co-owners — CEO Jeff Charlson (45% ownership), Andy Neilsen (14%), Joey Lange (9%), Jeff Amerine (5%), Phyl Amerine (5%) and Ricky Draehn (5%).

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