Soft opening on April 22 set for Park at West End in downtown Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 7,600 views 

(Photo courtesy of Troy Jarrell/G6M Productions)

The Park at West End in downtown Fort Smith has a soft opening planned for April 22 that could include a renovated carousel, Wild Waffles and a possible tavern in the private park that has been closed for years.

Paige McCoy of Fort Smith, who owns the park with husband Chris, said they have been busy with renovations. The couple bought the park at auction in August 2021 for $210,000 and are ready to open it again to the public, Paige McCoy said. The sale was made on condition by former owner Phil White that improvements and fixtures at the park – the Ferris wheel, the railroad car and the carousel – remain on the lot for at least 10 years.

The park includes a refurbished Pullman railcar, which has been used as a diner, a double decker used as a snack bar and a mural by United Kingdom artist D*Face!, painted as part of the Unexpected mural project. The Ferris wheel, which was installed at the park in 2005, was first used at the World’s Fair in San Diego in 1935. The Bertazzon carousel was made in Italy. In December 2009, the Fort Smith Board of Directors voted to lease the park from White. They kept it open until 2020, when the park was closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCoy said Lorrie Staggs with Hidden Talent Fine Art Gallery and Restoration, located on Third Street in Fort Smith, has been renovating the carousel.

“She has been restoring each of the horses, horse by horse, and will restore the painting on the carousel itself,” McCoy said. “We are talking with the Future School (of Fort Smith) to have some art students paint the bus that is in the park.”

The plan is to paint the double-decker bus black with a buffalo featured in white, she said. The bus will be dubbed The White Buffalo Tavern and will act as a snack bar that sells nachos, popcorn, snacks and beer once the park gets its liquor license, McCoy said.

The railcar has been cleaned and restored and will open at the soft opening as Wild Waffles, featuring breakfast or brunch, lunch and dinner of gourmet waffle sandwiches and creations. Alex Hoog, owner of Wild Waffles, said the eatery started in 2021 as a food truck. Family issues moved the family out of state and the food truck closed after only a few months.

“Paige thinks it will be a great fit for the park, and we are excited,” Hoog said.

The waffles featured in all the dishes are from a family recipe for European waffles made with a dough infused with pearl sugar. The waffles are then topped or filled (in sandwich form) with a variety of sweet options, like peanut butter, nutella, ice cream, cheesecake, and savory options like bacon or sausage, Hoog said.

“It’s like a sweetbread so it goes well with a lot of things,” Hoog said.

Some offerings will include hamburgers made with the waffles as the “bun” and a twist on the Southern staple biscuits and gravy.

“The concept is different. It’s fun. There are plenty of ice-cream places, but nothing like this,” Hoog said.

The eatery will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and reopen from 4 to 10 p.m., and perhaps on Sunday afternoons. There is discussion about keeping it open later on weekends when more people are downtown. To start, Wild Waffles will be a family operation with Hoog, her husband and their two teenagers doing all the work. If things go well, they may add employees after the first of the year, she said.

McCoy said their plans are to have the rest of the park open from 10 to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Carousel rides will be available when the park opens in April, but the ferris wheel will probably not be put into use until later in the year.

“We are waiting on the state safety inspection of that, and then we will need to make the needed safety repairs,” McCoy said. “But we will get it back running.”

Children’s games – basketball and football toss, balloon darts, and duck pond – are being constructed and moved into the park to add to the fun, she said. Along with the initial investment, the couple has put about $130,000 in renovation and repair to the park, McCoy said.

“We’ve had it for a while, but we were meeting with our accountant and running all the numbers to make sure we could come up with a plan that would be profitable,” McCoy said.

In the past the city has offered rides on the Ferris wheel or carousel for $1. McCoy said those charges would increase as most things have in the past two years, but they will keep prices affordable for families. They are also looking at renting the park for birthday parties, weddings and field trips.

“We’ve heard from so many people who have so many memories of this park. We want to help them make more and others continue to make memories,” McCoy said.

The Steel Horse Rally will be held downtown soon after the park opens, and McCoy said they will be part of all the festivities. The charity motorcycle rally will be May 5-6 in downtown Fort Smith. McCoy said they will sell chances for a cruiser-style motorcycle at the park in the weeks leading up to the rally and the bike will be given away during that weekend.

“We are hoping to have different (nonprofit organizations) be able to set up at the park on weekends and to have raffles that will raise funds for them,” McCoy said. “We’re still working on how we can do that.”