The Mill and The Exchange to open in downtown Fort Smith

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 3,749 views 

Pictured is the Bakery District, with The Mill and The Exchange in the building in photo right.

The building has a chandelier from a theater in the Hamptons and a wheel from a Barnum & Bailey circus wagon. The wheel is a light fixture. One desk features gears from an old clock tower. Those and other unique items are in The Mill at the Bakery District, a shared workspace in downtown Fort Smith.

It’s the latest property to be redeveloped that was once part of the Shipley Baking Co. operations near the Fort Smith Convention Center, Sebastian County Courthouse and the Judge Isaac C. Parker Federal Building. More than a century old, the building was originally built as a Bruce Rogers Co. plumbing supply store.

The first part of what is teased as a multi-phase project in the area began in early 2019, with The Bakery District opening in June 2020. That phase cost around $2.7 million to construct, with an undisclosed amount for fixtures and equipment. Users of that space include a coffee shop, bookstore, and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith classrooms and offices.

The about 18,000-square-foot building that includes The Mill has three floors and cost around $2.225 million to build. It is set to open Wednesday (Feb. 15). Beshears Construction was the contractor, with Beshears architect Kelly Wilson working with KMW Properties and Phil White on the design. Wood and materials from the building and grounds of the Bakery District were used to build desks, workstations, shelving and walls of the three-story building.

Fort Smith-based KMW Properties, which is owned by the Hanna family of Fort Smith, which owns Hanna Oil & Gas., manages and develops real estate in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

The Mill is on the second floor and is a shared workspace accommodating around 90 people. According to Tom Hanna, portfolio manager with KMW Properties, and Rham Cunningham, who helps KMW manage the Bakery District, the workspace has three memberships. A social membership is $100 a month, which provides full access to non-reserved space, and allows access to one of three conference rooms. Around 65 of those memberships will be sold.

A renovated chandelier that once hung in a theater in the Hamptons in New York now hangs in the atrium of The Mill and The Exchange in downtown Fort Smith.

A dedicated desk membership is $250 and includes a reserved desk space with a filing cabinet that can be locked. There are 13 dedicated desks, with just five unsold as of Monday (Feb. 13). A $500 per month membership provides reserved enclosed office space. Cunningham said only four of those are available, but they are sold out.

For all memberships, the space also includes free coffee, a patio space, a printing station, and lockers.

“The amenities are basically comfort and cool is what I say,” Cunningham joked. “The common space here, the outside patio deck, the living room areas, I mean, there are plenty of cool spaces to post up and work.”

The first floor, The Exchange, is an open space for vendors – ideally food and beverage vendors, Cunningham said. Part of the basement will be home to a store selling microgreens. Cunningham said they are working on other vendor ideas for the unfinished part of the basement.

Cunningham said those who have bought memberships include small business owners, real estate agents, bankers, and a pastor. One of the small business owners is Mark Bliss, owner of Fort Smith-based Poultry Direct. Bliss said office space in his stores and warehouses is used by staff, leaving him to often office from coffee shops or his home. When he heard about The Mill, he reserved one of the four enclosed office spaces as soon as possible.

“I was keeping up with this project, and I told him [Bill Hanna] I thought this might work for me. And so the more I looked at it, the more I liked it, and it turned out way nicer than what I anticipated,” Bliss said.

Tom Hanna and Cunningham said the 18,000-square-foot building is not the end of property renovation for KMW in downtown Fort Smith.