Meetings to address ways to boost downtown Fort Smith development

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 582 views 

There are two chances for downtown business and property owners to engage in the future of downtown Fort Smith in the coming days. The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) will host a town hall meeting for downtown business owners and property owners to discuss the next steps for downtown with CBID members at 6 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 20) on the first floor of Propak, 1100 Garrison Ave.

Talicia Richardson, 64.6 Downtown director, said the idea was to focus conversation around promoting economic development, investment and development downtown.

“The primary focus of the meeting is to engage our property owners in an open discussion pertaining to what we need to do as property owners and investors in downtown to bring people to the area, attracting investors and developers,” Richardson said the CBID regular meeting Tuesday (Feb. 19) morning. “(We also want to look at) motivating property owners to enhance the curb appeal of existing buildings and to bring consistency to branding Fort Smith, particularly downtown.”

The meeting will look at the role and responsibility of the CBID as well as its goals for the future, Richardson said.

The same group of property and business owners will have the opportunity to get information on the ongoing traffic downtown traffic study in Fort Smith. The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a resolution in November that authorized an engineering services agreement with Halff Associates, Inc. of Little Rock for the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study. Consultants from Halff will be available to discuss the study at a drop-in meeting the firm from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 26 in the west side of the River Park Events Building, 121 Riverfront Drive. The meeting is open to the public.

“This is a great opportunity to discuss the biggest challenge to downtown Fort Smith,” said CBID member Richard Griffin.

The study is estimated to be completed in six to nine months, with a cost not to exceed $151,986. The project is based on recommendations from the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan, which was adopted by the board in August 2017 as “a master plan addressing specific development and revitalization issues in the downtown and Central Business Improvement District (CBID) areas,” information on the study states.

The subject of truck traffic downtown was brought up several times during panel discussions during the Invest Fort Smith Summit held Oct. 30 at Temple Live! in downtown Fort Smith. Mervin Jebaraj, an economist and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, who served on a closing panel discussion at the summit, said addressing the truck traffic and making the downtown more walkable is a key to bringing more retail and residential dwellings to the area.

“You really don’t want to see 18-wheelers on your downtown drag. … You don’t want to pause your conversation for five minutes while a truck passes,” he said.

The topic was also broached by Bill Hanna, a panelist in the opening discussion of the summit. Hanna, owner of downtown Fort Smith-based Hanna Oil & Gas, and a CBID member, said trucks are loud, are not pedestrian friendly, and make it difficult to create a walkable urban environment.

“If we want our downtown more livable, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with trucks,” Hanna said. “We have to figure out how to quiet downtown. That’s the challenge.”

Private contributions to pay part of the cost of the study total $47,000 and are broken down as follows: Central Business Improvement District (CBID ), $20,000; OK Foods, $10,000; ArcBest, $5,000; Ghan & Robinson Family Foundation, $4,000; Arkansas Refrigerated Services, $3,000; First National Bank, $2,000; Phil White, $2,000; and Davis Iron & Metal, $1,000.

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