Steering committee possible to pursue feasibility of Fort Smith indoor sports facility

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 678 views 

While members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors agree that an indoor sports facility would be a beneficial amenity for the city that could help the economy, how to pay for one is something no one is certain how to accomplish.

Bill Krueger with Conventions, Sports & Leisure (CSL) presented a feasibility study for a potential new Indoor Sports Facility in Fort Smith at the board’s study session Tuesday (June 14). The study showed that a $31.2 million facility would have an annual economic impact for the area of about $42.4 million.

“I have to say, I don’t want to be negative on this, but we are staring a recession right in the face. … It will begin to show up in our sales tax very soon. I think the city of Fort Smith is in a good position to weather anything that happens, but I think we have to be cautious on a $30 million plus inflation situation until we get further into the future,” said Director Lavon Morton.

Krueger told the board that in other cities, funding for such projects usually comes from lodging tax, prepared food taxes, property taxes or other types of sales tax. Fort Smith is at its max (3%) on lodging tax and property tax. A prepared food tax has been taken to the voters in the past and failed, Morton noted.

“I want to be realistic when we look at things. I would love to have this. I think these are great, but we have to be realistic,” Morton said.

After receiving Arkansas Tourism matching grant funds of $15,000 in 2021, the city hired CSL on Sept. 30 to conduct a feasibility study on the arena for a cost not to exceed $30,000. The Fort Smith Advertising & Promotion Commission approved $7,500 toward the feasibility study in April 2021. The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved the city’s half of the  $15,000 needed for the  grant in May 2021. Krueger met with stakeholders and citizens at several meetings in November.

Tim Jacobsen, executive director of Fort Smith Convention & Visitor Bureau, has said the Fort Smith Convention Center has the capacity for meeting, feeding and breakout sessions or meeting, feeding and exhibits. An indoor sports facility could add to that by allowing the meeting, eating and breakout session at the convention center while exhibits could be at the other facility, or other combinational use of the two facilities, which could work to bring bigger conferences to Fort Smith, he said. The facility could be used for basketball, volleyball, concerts, weddings and much more.

In his report, Kruger said based on community tours and interviews with stakeholders and user groups, three sites in Fort Smith could be used for an indoor sports facility and would leverage existing infrastructure, including existing athletic fields, while also allowing for room for potential future expansion. The three sites listed are Northwest Fort Smith, Ben Geren Regional Park and Chaffee Crossing.

The report looked at building a flexible, tournament-quality indoor amateur sports and recreation facility consisting of permanent hardwood courts, indoor turf and various associated amenities. The facility would be about 120,000 square feet with approximately 900 parking spaces and sit on a minimum of 10 acres. It would cost approximately $31.2 million in construction costs.

Primary indoor athletic surfaces would include eight full-sized basketball courts and 16 full-size volleyball courts, both of hardwood; one regulation-size indoor field with synthetic turf; a minimum 35-foot ceiling height; dropdown nets to separate court and turf spaces (including ability to net individual batting/training cages/spaces); bleachers, athletic equipment, scoreboard and other such equipment; locker/team rooms and party rooms; fitness/wellness spaces and equipment; walking track; play areas; and a food court and café.

Estimating that stabilization of operations will occur by the fourth year of operation, the report shows that by that year, the facility would generate $25.2 million in direct spending and an additional $17.2 million in indirect spending annually, for a total annual economic impact of $42.4 million. By the fourth year when stabilization is expected, the facility is estimated to have an annual operating expense of $2.706 million with estimated income of $3.025 million annually, the report said. It is expected to create 542 full- and part-time jobs.

“This is something I’m very hopeful we can find a path forward on. This is a very very wonderful project that would go into … future-proofing our city, and setting us up for even greater success moving forward,” said Vice Mayor and Director Jarred Rego.

Director Kevin Settle said maybe the next step for this project would be to talk to the city of Springdale, which has a similar but smaller facility, about how profitable the facility is and how it was funded.

“Let’s have a public meeting, maybe with the stakeholders, to see if there is really sentiment to do this. Ask them if this is something they think will generate what we think it will.  Let’s see what the public sentiment is,” Settle said.

Krueger suggested the next steps be creating some type of steering committee to further evaluate certain aspects of the project, such as sites and a deeper dive into different financing techniques.

“You could issue an RFP (request for proposal) to see if there is any private interest in participating in the project,” Krueger said.

He also suggested the city talk to sports management companies, which often get involved after these studies and can help with discussions of financing.

“There are a lot of people in the community that want to see this happen,” said Director André Good. “But in the midst of a recession and in the midst of us passing a tax, how do we fund this? But I’m still smiling because there are a lot of people who have already bought into this. It might take a hodgepodge of funding mechanisms, but I think it could be possible, and I think we have to at least try.”