64.6 director seeks focus on ‘sustainability,’ hopes for a new brand for the city

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,320 views 

A goal of Talicia Richardson is to not only foster near-term growth and improvements in downtown Fort Smith, but include a “sustainability” focus so the momentum of recent years continues.

Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown, recently told Talk Business & Politics that diversity of projects and people will help foster long-term momentum.

“Sustainability,” Richardson responded when asked about maintaining momentum. “And for me, that means diversity of our community development. For me, that means inclusive volunteers. That means, ‘Hey, I want to be a part of Fort Smith’s new beginning,’ if you will.”

64.6 Downtown is a nonprofit founded in 2015 by Fort Smith entrepreneur Steve Clark. Its stated purpose is to create vibrant spaces in downtown Fort Smith that further economic development. It’s responsible for the Garrison Commons downtown pocket park and The Unexpected, an annual event bringing urban and contemporary art to Arkansas. The group is also responsible for crafting and managing the Propelling Downtown Forward initiative.

Part of sustainability includes the second annual Invest Fort Smith. The two-hour event will be held Sept. 19 starting at 5:30 p.m., in the West Room at Riverfront Park, and include a panel discussion with regional mayors. The event is free, but pre-registration is required. Richardson said the goal of Invest Fort Smith, The Unexpected, and other programs and events is to make the most connections possible because economic development can come from any direction.

“We’re going to create that momentum, but you need to have someone like myself, like someone at Chaffee Crossing, like someone at the city and CBID [Central Business Improvement District], working this. It can’t be someone’s pet project, it can’t be a hobby. It has to be someone’s way of life, and I think that’s what we are creating here,” Richardson said.

She also likened the work to throwing a party in that she wants the infrastructure, attitudes and other support systems “to be prepared for the arrival of my guests.” She said part of that is educating people in Fort Smith about what is happening and what she believes is the city’s improving image.

“That positive publicity is out there right now,” Richardson said. “So now we’re doing our dog and pony shows around the community saying, ‘These are the things that are going on in Fort Smith and these are the people who are talking about us outside of Fort Smith.’”

An ongoing study of truck traffic is also part of 64.6 efforts to foster more development. Richardson said there is a “very sensitive balance” between boosting economic development and “not curtailing any aspect of the economy.” One of the ideas to create a more walkable, livable space downtown is the use of a roundabout.

“I think we will see a roundabout. The location of said roundabout will be decided by the Arkansas Department of Transportation, depending on where it is, and the city of Fort Smith engineering and all those key people,” she said, adding that a roundabout is not impossible, and ARDOT is in “high support” of using roundabouts where they make sense.

Another project Richardson would like to push is to create a brand for the city. She said city officials and volunteers held a successful Bicentennial celebration, but that same effort to recognize the city’s history needs to go into the future of the city.

“We don’t have a brand, per se, for Fort Smith,” she said. “The city of Fort Smith did a phenomenal job with the Bicentennial, but who are we now? And that’s where we need to join forces and try to figure out what is going to be the definition of Fort Smith. What is our narrative as Fort Smith and all of these different entities that are working to contribute to that.”

For more of the interview with Richardson, link here to the recent Western Arkansas Report podcast by Talk Business & Politics.