The Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission voted to “enthusiastically support” the concept of a park in the former Acme Brick Yard during its meeting Wednesday (May 10) and agreed to recommend the park to the Fort Smith Board of Directors.
Michael Mings, the city’s mobility coordinator, presented a brief overview of a conceptual plan for the yard to become the Brick Yard Park if the city were to purchase the property.
“For many years, the city of Fort Smith was renowned as a brick manufacturer. The rich clay deposits found in Fort Smith would become the bricks that built up the community from which they came. The homes, businesses, and public spaces in Fort Smith came to life because of what came from the ground,” the plan states.
The brick history of the city includes 70 miles of brick roads that once paved the way for Fort Smith to grow and thrive.
“Many of these brick buildings and roads are still serving the community today, a testimony to the strength and quality of the bricks made in Fort Smith,” Mings said at the meeting.
While the clay deposits in the Acme quarry may be gone and the business might have closed, there is still life available for the property, Ming said. The concept would have the city purchase the western parcel of the property and both eastern parcels. The 63-acre western parcel is listed at $1.4 million, 8 acres in one eastern parcel is list for $1.2 million, and 28 acres in the second eastern parcel is listed at $609,840. Each parcel of the ACME Brick property lends itself to certain uses based on location, topography, zoning, land composition, and the riparian zone created by the May Branch Creek, the proposal said.
Though Mings and those joining him for the presentation said it would be important to get extensive public input, they did have recommendations.
“The topography of the western parcel of the ACME Brick property makes it ideal for progressive-style mountain biking trails. While a property with over a century of excavation work may not be ideal for a majority of developers, the City of Fort Smith can leverage the elevation changes of the quarry for recreational purposes. With biking recently being adopted as the state sport of Arkansas, and with the growing demand for biking trails, we suggest that mountain biking trails be the primary recreational emphasis at the Brick Yard Park,” the report said.
Features of the trails could include using brick pavers on berms and trail access points, progressive trails using colors to signify their difficulty and blending art with outdoor recreation.
“As the Unexpected has established a highly acclaimed arts scene in Fort Smith, the Brick Yard Park should use art to create beauty and an aesthetic draw,” the proposal said.
The group also recommended a walking or multipurpose trail circle the park’s perimeter, much like Creekmore Park.
Because May Branch Creek runs along the eastern parcels of the ACME Brick property and collects the storm water runoff of several neighborhoods in the area, the proposals include a water detention pond.
“Often, May Branch Creek creates flooding in homes on the north side of town. City engineers have determined that building a detention pond at the ACME Brick property could significantly reduce the risk of flooding caused by May Branch Creek,” the report said.
Mings said the detention pond could create the ideal setting for outdoor recreation including a walking trail, multiple pavilions and even an amphitheater.
“South S Street, directly north of the ACME Brick property, is a street carrying historical significance in our community. Formerly, the street marked the boundary of a redline district, an area that prohibited real estate sales to minorities and furthered systemic segregation. As we reckon with the moral shortcomings of our city’s history, we can actively seek redemptive opportunities that help to heal the community from past harms,” the report states. “We believe the Brick Yard Park can serve as a space that brings people together in an area that once acted as a dividing line in our community. We propose that the park offer multiple gathering spaces for parties, concerts, outdoor learning, and communal interactions. Trailheads can also be used as a spot to meet and rest.”
There are several neighborhoods near the property, and all we be served by the park, Ming said. A conveyor that connected the two pieces of property and that was recently removed could be an opportunity to connect neighborhoods to the park without having to traverse the busy thoroughfare that is Old Greenwood Road, Ming said.
“The Conveyor One … was the conveyor belt that stretched across Old Greenwood Road from the quarry to the kiln. Recently, that conveyor belt was removed. We propose building a pedestrian bridge called ‘The Conveyor’ that connects the west parcel to the east parcel. The pedestrian bridge would allow people to cross Old Greenwood Road safely,” the report said.
Looking at the east parcel of the property, the group suggests that the city zone it for mixed use development. This would lay the framework for a space where people can live, work, and play, the report said.
“A new urbanist style of development can help to maximize the value of the land. Around the nation, walkable areas are seeing the highest increases in property value. Mixed-use development can bring a high quality of life for Fort Smith residents, where an ideal blend of urban living and outdoor recreation makes for an attractive lifestyle,” the report noted.
The group suggested a creative funding strategy be implemented to purchase the ACME Brick property and construct the Brick Yard Park, including grants, private investment, parks funding and the general fund.
The suggested next steps are to analyze the results of the environmental study provided by Western Arkansas Planning and Development District. If the results are favorable, the proposal would be that the city purchase the property and work with a consultant to develop a master plan.