The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (June 7) approved resolutions) to install outdoor fitness courts near the Arkansas River in downtown Fort Smith and in east Fort Smith, and to apply for a grant to purchase houses in the floodplain.
The first resolution, approved by a vote of six to one with Director George Catsavis voting in dissent, allows the city to adopt a partnership to bring the Jean-Michel Basquiat Outdoor Fitness Court to Fort Smith along with a second outdoor court that will feature a local artist. The project is part of the 2022 National Fitness campaign, which provides outdoor fitness equipment to communities across the country through application and award, said Jurena Storm, government affairs liaison to the Office of the Mayor. Storm said the program chooses 10 cities a year.
“The City of Fort Smith received the invitation of application due to the impact of our public art pieces,” Storm said, noting Fort Smith’s reputation in the art world because or murals and other public art created by the Unexpected Project.
Only 100 cities were asked to submit an application for the curated collection featuring Jean-Michel Basquiat, information from NFC said. Basquiat’s art career spanned from the late 1970s until his death at age 27 in 1988. The Jean-Michel Basquiat Fitness Court initiative was born in 2020 as part of NFC’s Arts and Culture Series, which supports the NFC Grant Fund nationwide, a news release said.
NFC delivers a comprehensive community fitness and wellness ecosystem built around a digital Fitness Court, a free, seven-station, outdoor functional training center built in public spaces. NFC Director Mitch Menaged recently informed the city that Fort Smith was chosen for the Basquiat public art campaign and $30,000 to install a second outdoor fitness court with art from a local artist.
The Basquiat court requires $220,000 plus a concrete slab. The total needed to fund both courts is $425,000, Storm said. The mayor’s office has started a fundraising campaign for the courts and so far two donors have given a total of $250,000, Storm said. That means the Basquiat court is now fully funded, and money has been raised toward the second court. The city’s cost for the two courts will be the cost of the concrete slabs and annual maintenance, she said. City Administrator Carl Geffken said the cost for time and materials will be minimal compared to the cost of the overall project. He estimated if the slab needs to be 20 feet by 40 feet, or 800 square feet, the cost would be about $3,200-$6,400 using the cost estimate of $4-$8 feet per square foot.
The two courts will be located downtown by the Riverfront Skate and Bike Park in downtown Fort Smith by the Arkansas River and adjacent to the new dog park to be located on Fort Chaffee Boulevard and Taylor Avenue, adjacent to the Sebastian County soccer fields, which is expected to open later this year.
The board of directors also approved a resolution authorizing the submission of a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) for the acquisition of properties in the floodplain in the area of Stanard and 32nd and 33rd streets.
The city met with homeowners in the flood zone and found those willing to sell their homes and relocate elsewhere in the city prior to seeking the grant. They have identified 12 homes where the homeowners have expressed a willingness to sell their homes, Geffken said.
Tracy McKenna with Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD) said her agency will apply for the FEMA grant on the city’s behalf. If the city is awarded the grant, WAPDD will work with the homeowners and help them through the sale process. The grant would pay 90% (up to $1.96 million) of the purchase price on the houses with the city needing to cover the remaining 10% ($196,000). The engineering department budgeted $250,000 each year to purchase homes in the floodplain, Geffken said in a memo. Those funds will cover the city’s portion.
The city will own the land once the sale, demolition and restoration process is complete. That land will then have building restrictions in place that will allow for it to be a greenspace that will help with flooding, Geffken said.
Directors agreed that if the grant is received the acquisition of the properties will be a good step in the direction of combating flooding on the northside of the city, but said progress needs to be made in the area around Howard Elementary School on North Eighth Street.