‘The Bricks’ to expand residential living space in downtown Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 3,915 views 

More residential living will open in downtown Fort Smith as early as January 2023, with Ghan & Cooper Commercial Properties beginning a $6.5 million renovation of a former hotel into 66 apartments. The developers say it will provide “convenience living” amid “modern luxuries.”

Fort Smith-based Ghan & Cooper, led by partners Kathleen Caldarera, Bob Cooper and Stuart Ghan, acquired the 54-year-old facility at 101 N. 11th St. in May for $1.57 million from WWA Company Inc. The estimated $6.5 million renovation cost includes the purchase price.

In August 2002, Woody Anderson and his father Woodrow Anderson Jr. bought what was then a Howard Johnson Inn. The Andersons paid $1.5 million for the 65,000-square-foot hotel and invested $2.6 million in renovations for the 129-room property. The renovated hotel was an initial success, winning the Howard Johnson Image Award in 2005. But in recent years the property has been empty, attracting only a few homeless squatters.

The new developers aren’t gutting the facility largely because almost all of the walls and floors – and first-floor ceilings – are concrete or block, Ghan said. But almost everything else is getting removed and updated. They plan a mix of studio and 1- and 2-bedroom apartments that will range from around 500 square feet to 900 square feet.

The goal, according to Caldarera, is to have rents ranging between $900 and $1,500. The rent is all-inclusive and part of what the trio frequently referred to as “convenience living.”

“That includes so many services that people would usually pay on top of that [rent] … We’re going to make it convenient, so when you move in, everything, the utilities, Internet, it’s all there,” Ghan said.

Ghan & Cooper partners (from left) Stuart Ghan, Bob Cooper and Kathleen Caldarera.

In addition to paid utilities, trash service and broadband Internet, the renovated facility will include a fitness center, shared workspace, saltwater pool, 24/7 onsite management, and a place to manage Amazon, food, dry-cleaning and other pick-up and delivery services. Caldarera also said they are considering a pet and bicycle wash station, but have not yet decided on that plan.

The trio also discussed plans to have movable large television screens around the pool area for sporting events and other popular programming. Caldarera said the large hotel lobby is being considered for “quarterly resident events.”

Plans also include renovating what was once the hotel’s 254-seat restaurant with a large bar area. Part of that plan will see the southeast corner of the restaurant opened up as a patio space. Cooper said they plan to make the restaurant space available at a low rate “to reduce the barrier of entry for a restaurant owner” as part of a trade-off for the restaurant providing, for example, food delivery service and bar service around the pool.

The project has been in planning for more than 18 months, Ghan said, which includes a marketing study to determine key factors like price points and the demographic most likely to find the Bricks an attractive living option. Part of that effort causes them to believe likely renters could include doctors, traveling nurses and other medical personnel with Baptist Health-Fort Smith, which is less than a mile away.

They also plan to market the apartments as “The Bricks at Brunwick.” Ghan & Cooper bought in March 2018 the historic Brunwick Place office and apartment building immediately west of the former hotel. They also own other surrounding property and buildings. Ghan said the goal is for the section of downtown Fort Smith to be branded as “the Brunwick District.”

Caldarera said another part of the marketing will be a Facebook page including videos and pictures of construction, features on planned amenities and information on pre-leasing.