The Fort Smith Convention Center has joined the growing list to close in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. The convention center, including the ArcBest Performing Arts Center, is closed to the public, effective March 17 following recommendations from governmental and public-health officials regarding COVID-19.
The Convention Center’s administrative offices will remain open for individuals needing assistance with future events.
“In accordance with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control concerning the need for social distancing, we have decided to close our building until the end of April,” said Tim Seeberg, Fort Smith Convention Center general manager. “Convention Center staff will remain busy tending to current and future clients, as well as, maintaining the facility with a focus on maintenance and cleanliness.” In the coming weeks, staff will evaluate safety recommendations of local and national health authorities to determine if center will reopen or remain closed for a longer period of time, he said.
Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, said many events scheduled through April have been rescheduled or relocated. The center lost two upcoming Jehovah Witness conferences, which will affect tourism numbers. Also the Regional Dance America/Southwest festival, scheduled for March 26-28 in Fort Smith has been postponed.
“These are large events that included both the convention center and the hotel,” Legris said. “We’ve been working to move as many things as we can, but it’s not just the convention center. We have to work with what other things are planned and what the hotels already have booked.”
The convention center was able to hold the production of “Cinderella” presented by the Community School of the Arts last weekend, the National Rifle Association (NRA) dinner that same weekend and the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism earlier in March, all of which helped with Fort Smith’s tourism numbers for the year.
“We’ll see some drop in numbers because of this, but hopefully, not too much,” Legris said. “Hot Springs has closed its convention center. I think we will see a lot of other cities in Arkansas follow suit.”
The Fort Smith Convention and Tourism Bureau, located at Miss Laura’s at 2 N. B St., closed to the public Monday (March 16). Tourism information is available outside the door. Material includes a walking map of Fort Smith, a downtown dining guide and the history of Miss Laura’s, Legris said.
The Fort Smith Museum of History, the Clayton House and the Regional Art Museum also have closed through the month of March due to concerns about COVID-19.