New CBID commissioners hope to help transform downtown Fort Smith, recruit more visitors

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,732 views 

The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District has two new commissioners. Stuart Ghan and Matthew Holland were chosen by the Fort Smith Board of Directors to fill the openings on the board following the resignations of Richard Griffin and Rodney Ghan.

Griffin resigned his position on the CBID on Jan. 19 after serving on the board for 25 years, the longest of any commissioner Rodney Ghan resigned at the end of 2020.

State law provides that persons serving on the CBID) shall be owners of real property in the district or officers or stockholders of a corporation owning real property within the district. The eight commissioners are appointed by the Board of Directors and serve six-year terms.

Both new commissioners sat in their first meeting as commissioners at the CBID regular meeting Tuesday (March 16). Stuart Ghan is the principal broker and managing partner at Ghan & Cooper Commercial properties.

“I have been fortunate enough to be able to invest personally in downtown real estate, and I wanted to be a part of something in the downtown area that I feel is at a turning point with regards to focus and responsibilities,” Ghan said about why he applied to be on the commission. “I believe with the implementation of the form-based code, it is going to allow a shift in focus of the CBID to more substantial issues and matters that downtown will need to continue its transformation which has been happening for several decades.”

The Fort Smith Board of approved an ordinance amending the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) to include a form-based code that will replace the existing zoning districts in the majority of the city’s Central Business Improvement District Feb. 2. Implementation of a form-based code was a key recommendation of the Propelling Downtown Forward Master Plan adopted in 2017 by the city of Fort Smith. The primary purpose of the Fort Smith Downtown Form Based Code “is to facilitate the development and redevelopment of downtown,” said a memo from Maggie Rice, director of development services, on the issue. The CBID recommended approval of the code Nov. 17.

Stuart Ghan

Holland is the successor manager at Belle Point Beverages, where he is responsible for sales and analytics.

“My family’s business, Belle Point Beverages, has been located in downtown Fort Smith for 75 plus years. We are a very ‘plan for the future generations’ oriented business. I wanted our family to be represented on the CBID board so that our company can participate in the plans and projects of the district. In turn, this will create a better quality of life for the citizens of Fort Smith. It’s our way to give back to a community that has given us so much for so many years,” Holland said.

Both new members hope they can help lead the city and the CBID into the future while serving. Holland said he hopes the CBID can focus on ways to attract more visitors to Fort Smith’s downtown.

“Not only local visitors but regional visitors as well,” he said. “We have a beautiful downtown and riverfront. We need to draw people here and let them experience the greatness that is Fort Smith, Arkansas.”

Ghan said he hopes to accomplish many things during his tenure, but more importantly, he wants to make sure the CBID is focused on a clear path they can push forward and that the public can see and clearly understand as its purpose.

Matthew Holland

“My long-term vision would be to see the CBID become a driving force to help attract and assist in creating opportunities in business, retail, and especially living in our downtown district,” he said.

With the adoption of the form-based code, the CBID will focus less on paint colors and other criteria of buildings meeting requirements in the district and more on improving the district. One way they are hoping to accomplish that is through a supplemental annual assessment on a property in the CBID for operation, maintenance and repair and replacement of improvements within the CBID.

The CBID approved a resolution in November that could lead to 6 mil assessment on a property in the district that could fund a “Safety and Security” project and a Green and Clean program for the downtown district. The CBID commission plans to use monies garnered from an assessment to fund an ambassador program that would hire off-duty police officers as part of a Safety and Security program for downtown. That program would cost about $136,000 annually, according to a proposed operating budget.

The Green and Clean project would include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, which could incorporate care of flowerbeds as well as pruning and possible replacement of trees, cleaning and repairs to benches, lighting and trash receptacles, litter control, conversion of lights along Garrison Avenue to LED and more. The CBID would need about $300,000 to fund both programs, Dingman said.

Based on property valuations in 2019, each 1-mil assessment on properties within the CBID would amount to $38,834.47 in annual operating revenue. However, that estimate did not take into account any property owned by not-for-profit agencies or local, state or federal government. There are 470 individual parcels in the CBID. Of those, 115 are tax-exempt and have no value assigned to them. These include properties owned by governments, non-profits, churches, etc., according to information provided by the CBID.

Before an assessment can be levied, more than 50% of property owners in the district must sign a petition agreeing to an assessment. The CBID board of directors would then present that petition and the plan to the Fort Smith City Board of Directors. Under state law, if the CBID has the required signatures on the petition, the city’s BOD would be compelled to approve the assessment as an ordinance.

The commission hopes to have a draft of a petition in April and would then start getting the necessary signatures, CBID Chairman Bill Hanna said at the March 16 meeting.

“This effort is really going to take a lot of work by us to get the necessary (property owners) to sign the petition,” Hanna said. “When you factor in that Baptist Health owns a big bulk of the property value in the district, it is going to mean a special effort on our part.”

The assessment will not be able to be levied in 2021. The earliest the CBID could receive funds would be in 2022.

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