West End park in downtown Fort Smith to be sold at auction

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,009 views 

(Photo courtesy of Troy Jarrell/G6M Productions)

The Park at West End, known for its historic Ferris wheel and vintage, hand-painted carousel will go on the auction block Aug. 12. The park includes a refurbished Pullman railcar, which has been used as a diner, a double decker used as a snack bar and a mural by United Kingdom artist D*Face!, painted as part of the Unexpected mural project.

The Ferris wheel, which was installed at the park in 2005, was first used at the World’s Fair in San Diego in 1935. The Bertazzon carousel was made in Italy.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted in December 2009 to lease the park from owner and Fort Smith businessman Phil White. The city has done so since for $1 a year, White said. White operated the park for two years and had a third-party operate it for a year prior to leasing it to the city. The activity at the park declined from 24,800 tickets sold in the first year ($2 per ticket), 17,400 tickets ($3 a ticket) sold the second year, and about 10,000 tickets ($3 a ticket) sold the third year.

In the past the city has offered rides on the Ferris wheel or carousel for $1. The park was closed through the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doug Reinert, the city’s director parks and recreation, told the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission in May that his department was having difficulty filling open positions in the department to care for the city’s parks and thus would not open the Park at West End this year.

In 2020, White said there were plans to open a new eatery in the dining car. Serving as an outreach for Harbor House, Spuds Nickel and Dime Diner was meant to elevate the humble potato to gourmet levels with Chef Charles Belt presenting a menu completely composed of dishes featuring the root vegetable. COVID put those plans on hold permanently, White said. The diner previously was Boomerang Nickel and Dime Diner and the site of a successful business for years, he said. It has sat empty for three years now.

“I have had my fun with (the park), and now it is time to sell it,” White said of his decision to sell the park.

White said he sold his business, General Pallets & Crates, and he’s ready to let go of responsibility for the park as well.

Looper Auction & Realty will sell the park and all its amenities at a live auction beginning at 11 a.m. Aug. 12. Though they do not have an estimate of the sale price for the park, but more than $1 million has been invested in the property since it opened. White also has added a stipulation to the sale: Whoever buys the park must agree to keep it as a park.

“The Park at West End with the Ferris wheel and carousel are iconic fixtures in downtown, and we hope the new owner keeps it a park beyond the 10-year requirement in the auction,” said Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken.

The sale of the park will not affect the city-owned Compass Park Splash Pads, which are adjacent to it at 15 N. Second St., Geffken said.

“They will remain open. The Park at West End and Compass Park Splash Pads have different owners,” he said.