Downtown Fort Smith improvement plan gets the green light

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,236 views 

A long-awaited plan by the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District (CBID) to raise revenue and implement plans designed to improve the look and safety of downtown Fort Smith is now reality.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Nov. 1) approved an ordinance that will put into effect an assessment on properties in CBID. The assessment has been in the works for more than three years. The ordinance will allow the CBID, a semi-autonomous governing body – to levy a supplemental annual assessment of up to 10 mils on real property within the CBID boundaries – primarily in downtown Fort Smith.

CBID commissioners voted in August 2019 to pursue an assessment on downtown business. Prior to this, the Fort Smith CBID was the only one in the state not funded by an assessment.

Before the assessment was levied, property owners who own more than 50% of the property value in the district had to sign a petition agreeing to an assessment. There are 479 individual properties in the district, some of which are owned by the same entity. The board began collecting signatures on the petition in June 2021. According to information provided by Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman, owners of 53.22% of the property in the CBID signed the petition, including Baptist Health Regional Hospitals, which owns about 28% of the property in terms of value in the district.

The CBID plans to use assessment funds to support an ambassador program with Fort Smith police officers as part of a downtown Safety and Security program. That program would cost about $100,000 annually, according to a proposed operating budget. The Fort Smith Police Department now has one downtown ambassador on staff. This ambassador also services and enforces parking meters.

“Additional revenue to fund at least two additional ambassadors so that more hours of the day/days of the week might be covered is needed from this assessment. The Police Department would incorporate the additional revenue line into their department budget for expenses related to this program, which is intended to cover salaries only,” Dingman has previously said.

The assessment would also fund a Green and Clean project that would include streetscape maintenance and landscaping, which could incorporate care of flowerbeds and 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. That program also is estimated to be about $100,000, the proposed budget shows.

“The Parks Department has an existing landscaping agreement with a third party contractor to service the streetscape landscaping knuckles at a ‘passable’ level,” Dingman said. “That program/contract would be greatly expanded to include all street tree maintenance and care, sidewalk & curb cleaning & maintenance, increased flower/plant volumes in landscaped areas, and more attention to beautification and detail by the contractor.”

Any remaining revenue above what is required for the two main programs would be held by the CBID to use for other operational expenses, programs or small-scale improvements as determined in their process to adopt an annual budget. The proposed budget projects the assessment will bring in about $255,000 in annual revenue. Other expenses, including architect or engineering services for the landscaping project, legal services and other expenses would also be paid by the assessment, the budget shows.

The petition sets the assessment as not exceeding 10 mils. In April 2021, the CBID board voted for a cap of 10 mils and to cap any property owner at a maximum $10,000. There are about four properties in the assessment area that cap will affect, Dingman said. Commissioners have said they will decide each year what the coming year’s assessment will be if the assessment passes. The first year’s assessment will be 8 mils in 2023.