Now that the City of Fort Smith owns the property that once housed the ACME Brick Yard, the city can begin the process of developing designs to turn the property into retention ponds, biking and hiking trails, and much more.
Michael Mings, the city’s mobility coordinator, first presented in May an overview of a conceptual plan for the city purchasing the former brickyard and turning it into a park and detention pond for the city to the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission, noting that the 113-acre property could be very beneficial to city residents.
Each parcel of the 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 Ming presented said.
The city announced Jan. 5 the $2.288 million purchase of the property along Old Greenwood Road from ACME Brick Co., stating the property is strategically located in the heart of Fort Smith and represents a pivotal step in urban development and environmental management.
The area, previously used as a quarry and brick production site, is slated for transformation into a city park. Plans include the creation of mountain biking and hiking trails on the west side, offering residents new outdoor recreational opportunities. Additionally, the east side of the property will feature a detention pond, aimed at mitigating stormwater and reducing flash flooding in the Maybranch drainage area.
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.
Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said now that the city owns the property, it will begin the process of searching for a design firm that can incorporate the retention ponds, mountain bike and hiking trails, and the potential for mixed use commercial/residential building along the west side property along Old Greenwood. Plans also will include a bridge or tunnel to connect both properties, a dog park, and residential development along the far east portion of the property on the east side of Old Greenwood, Geffken said.
When the plan was first presented, it was suggested that the east parcel of the property be zoned for mixed use development, which would lay the framework for a space where people can live, work, and play. Geffken said the city is still considering residential or commercial and residential development along both sides of the property.
“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 said.
There are no plans or designs already drawn up that are being considered for the property, and no plans have been prepared for the detention pond. The city did post on its Facebook page Jan. 9 asking what members of the public would like to see at the park. The post garnered 258 comments with suggestions for mountain bike trails, gardens and pickleball courts, among others.
Sam Hanna, who was among the group who first developed the proposal of turning the brickyard into a city-owned park, said he hoped the city would hold stakeholder sessions to get input from citizens on the property.
“In the back of my mind when we were putting together the proposal, one of the big things for me was to have a large hiking and biking component,” Hanna said.
If the city could have a collection of hiking and mountain bike trails ranging in difficulty from beginner on up, the park could be a draw for tourism to the city, Hanna said. The original proposal included markups of a “really cool bunch of trails” by Progressive Trail Design who has built many trails in Northwest Arkansas, he said.
“If we were able to get half of those incorporated into the park, it could be a crown jewel biking trail in Arkansas and people would drive to Fort Smith to use it,” he said.
The detention pond could offer another chance for multi-use trails, Hanna said.
“It could be nice trails around a pond that people could really enjoy and never even know the pond was there to prevent flooding on the north side of town,” he said.
Geffken said other plans to gather ideas from the public would be determined after administration has the input of the board of directors. He said the board will want to hear the public’s ideas to name the park, but that whatever name is chosen for the park will follow the city’s naming policy.
But public input could be for much more than just naming and ideas, Hanna said. Many mountain bike trails have been added at Ben Geren Regional Park in Fort Smith by Ozark Off-Road Cyclists (OORC) volunteers and others who have helped build and maintain the trails. OORC could do the same for the brickyard park, helping to make it an accessible park that could benefit many, Hanna said.
The brick yard project is funded by the City’s general fund and the 1% sales tax designated for streets, bridges, and associated drainage improvements. No funds have been set aside for the property yet since the city does not have a plan for the property or know whether the work will be completed in phases, Geffken said.
“There are grants available and Chris Hoover, the city’s new grants and government relations manager, has been looking for existing and upcoming grants,” he said.
There is no timeline for the project yet, he said, noting that administration will have to work through the design and funding in order to determine a timeline.