The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District endorsed a nine-month, non-renewable, one-cent sales tax to benefit the U.S. Marshals Museum at its regular meeting Tuesday (Jan. 15).
Voters go to the polls March 12 to decide on the sales tax that will raise the remaining $17 million needed to complete the museum.
Construction began in July on the roughly $50 million U.S. Marshals Museum in downtown Fort Smith along the Arkansas River. Museum budget figures place the total project cost at around $49.266 million, down almost $10 million from estimates two years ago. Fort Smith was selected in 2007 to be home for the national museum.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance for the election in December. The United States Marshals Museum Foundation will pay the city’s cost of the special election.
The museum foundation has raised the money needed to construct the building, but the remaining funds are needed to build the inside, the interactive exhibits that will draw visitors to the museum, said Jim Dunn, president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation.
“What we are going to have is futuristic storytelling using technology that allows us to reach our mission to improve civic literacy,” Dunn said.
After the tax expires, nine months after it begins if passed, there will be no continuing expense to the city, Dunn said, promising the museum would not go back to the voters to ask for another tax.
Along with an endorsement of the tax, Dunn asked CBID members to vote for the tax and encourage their friends and family to vote for the tax and to help counter misinformation on the tax including letting people know it cannot be extended.
“I don’t know how to convince people that the tax will not be extended. I would write it in blood if that would help,” Dunn said. “We are asking you that if you hear people say it can be extended, to let them know that is not true.”
The ordinance governing the special election for the sales tax requires that the tax be imposed for only nine months.
The amount derived from a short-lived sales tax will be sufficient to complete the museum’s capital needs, the museum states on its website, where they also state the museum will not ask for an extension of the tax.
The only way the tax could be extended is if the museum were to go to the citizens again at a future date and ask for another tax, noted Steve Clark founder of Fort Smith-based Propak Logistics, founder of 64.6 Downtown and CBID member.
Dunn said that would not happen.
“Not everyone is for our tax. We get that. We feel the museum is worthy of public support,” he added. “It is a noble opportunity for Fort Smith to move forward.”
Dunn told the CBID the museum is projected to have a yearly economic impact of $13-22 million and they expect around 125,000 visitors annually.
The museum will be dedicated and the Hall of Honor will open on Sept. 24, Dunn said. If the sales tax passes, the complete museum will open in the summer of 2020.
In other business, Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, announced to the board that a town hall meeting for downtown business owners and property owners to be able to discuss next steps for downtown with CBID members will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 20 on the first floor of Propak, 1100 Garrison Ave.
The idea of the meeting is for the owners to see the projects for downtown and prioritize them and for the CBID to see if the owners’ priorities meet with theirs, said Bill Hanna, owner of downtown Fort Smith-based Hanna Oil & Gas and a CBID member.
The idea of the meeting is to determine “what are the things we are doing to attract outside investment,” said Clark.
He said what needs to come from the meeting is for everyone to agree on how to market downtown, making sure it is in alignment with the Gateway Plan; learn what current business owners are doing to make their buildings marketable; and determine what amenities have to exist in order for downtown to maintain and attract both business and employees.