CBID agrees on two downtown Fort Smith improvement projects

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,617 views 

Commissioners with the Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District have decided to take on two projects presented to the public to help better downtown Fort Smith. The two projects have an estimated combined cost of more than $74,500.

MAHG Architecture presented a blueprint for a better downtown on April 11 to a group of about 100 at the U.S. Marshals Museum, explaining 10 projects that could ease mobility downtown while making the area more attractive to residents and visitors. The projects range in price from around $9,000 to $1.6 million, with the total combined cost for all the projects estimated to be $3.2 million.

Feedback from the public at the meeting was mostly positive, with city directors in attendance noting this is how “We can make our downtown better.”

The CBID board agreed almost a year ago to hire MAHG Architecture Inc. for a study to help determine what future projects could best help downtown Fort Smith. MAHG reps have met with the CBID board on several occasions to brainstorm ideas and flesh out projects. At a meeting on Feb. 15, they presented more detailed projects and price tags for those.

“We’ve created some ideas of future projects for downtown,” said Galen Hunter with MAHG, noting that the main focus has been connecting downtown with the riverfront, Garrison and Rogers Avenue and Cisterna Plaza to Brunswick Place.

At the CBID board meeting Thursday (April 18), commissioners were asked to rank the projects on impact, ease of implementation and funding availability. Commissioners agreed that they would like to see all the projects completed, a sentiment that was also spoken many times at the public meeting on April 11.

“I think we need to decide on one thing,” Commissioner Stuart Ghan said. “I understand wanting to get as much done as we can. I would love to have it all. But we need to take on one, see how it goes, and make progress.”

Commissioners agreed to fund the Garrison Crossing at Third Street, which will cost $9,208.31, and the Art Walk Connector, which will cost $65,362.36. The Garrison at Third Street crossing will have a “pedestrian scramble” large crosswalk that allows for basic across-the-street crossings as well as diagonal crossings. The crossing will also feature landscaping.

“Many are apprehensive of crossing here. It’s very wide. There is lots of traffic. We are suggesting widening the crosswalk to make it more about pedestrians. It’s something a little bit different – a pedestrian scramble. At peak times, when pedestrians are needing to cross, all lights (from all directions) will turn red. Pedestrians can cross diagonally or straight across. Basically, pedestrians rule the road at that moment,” said Devon Tabor with MAHG.

The Art Walk Connector will have an entry plaza, art pedestals, string lights and an art walk lighted sign.

“We determined Rogers Avenue is very important as far as pedestrian and cyclist circulation, and it’s an easier target than Garrison Avenue,” said Tim Varner with MAHG. “We want to strengthen the connectors between Rogers Avenue and Garrison Avenue.”

Varner said the Art Walk connector would be by the state office building and Prohibition Bar. The art could be rotated at certain intervals.

“I really like this idea. If I were driving down Garrison and saw the lights and sign, I’d stop. I’d want to know what it was. Then when I’m there looking at the art, I’d see someone walk by with a beer, and think I want one of those. And Prohibition Bar is right there,” Varner told those attending the public meeting on April 11.

The CBID commission said they will have around $150,000 from the Green and Clean project fund generated by the CBID assessment. They had intended to use part of those funds to hire a landscaper to plant and care for landscaping along Garrison Avenue, but multiple requests for bids on the project have not netted any interest.

“We are not delivering on that part of it. We need to find a way to spend this money that does what we promised people we would do,” said Commission Chair Bill Hanna.

The board agreed to extend hours on the Abilities Unlimited contract for keeping downtown clean, so part of the available funds will go to that. The Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Department has a contract with Abilities Unlimited for downtown care. CBID would pick up the added cost of that contract when more hours are added to it. Sara Deuster, director of parks and recreation, said she would negotiate with Abilities Unlimited and present what she learns at the next CBID meeting.

Board members agreed that the projects to improve downtown would deliver on their promise. They expect the projects to be completed in the 2024 calendar year.

In 2022, the Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance that put into effect an assessment on properties in the CBID. The assessment had been in the works for more than three years and allows 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. The assessment for 2023 was 8 mils. The same is set for 2024.

The CBID said it will use assessment funds to support an ambassador program with Fort Smith police officers as part of a downtown Safety and Security program, and a Green and Clean project. The Fort Smith Police Department hired Jon Raspberry to start the ambassador program in 2021. Raspberry served as the department’s downtown ambassador/meter technician. At the first of August 2023, the police department hired Saylor Steward and Allyson Wilson, as part-time ambassadors. There are ambassadors downtown 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Raspberry said.

The CBID board said Thursday that once the two approved projects are completed, they will focus on what other of the projects they can undertake. In no particular order, the other projects include:
• A Street Pedestrian Promenade
It will narrow A Street to one lane, increase sidewalk growth, add a landscape buffer between the street and sidewalk, and will tie in with a riverfront gateway. Cost – $567,877.35
• Riverfront Gateway – Cost – $176,992.08

• A Street Complete Street
This will get people from the riverfront to Cisterna Plaza while retaining parallel parking. It will keep the one lane of traffic and include a two-foot striped-lane buffer and bike lane. Cost – $57,847.88

• South Pedestrian Connection
Install signage on the existing gateway on Rogers Avenue along with pedestrian directional signage and install under bridge color-changing lightning to make a more picturesque and safe pedestrian crossing under the bridge. Cost – Approximately $25,000

• Court Street Connector
Key components include connecting Rogers and Garrison Avenue via Court street with painted pedestrian crossing; removing donation pavers and salvage for revenue; and adding brick planters and trash enclosures. Cost – $377,928.91

• Parking Garage Connector and Transit Hub
There would be a lighter trolley and bus stop, public-use bicycle racks, bicycle and scooter rental racks and landscaping and brick buffers between the sidewalk and the road. Cost – $252,406.06

• Garrison City Park
This project would increase sidewalk width, add light poles and string lights, and add a parking garage pedestrian entrance. Cost – $85,563.58

• Cisterna Plaza and Area Improvements
The most expensive project calls for a Towson Avenue pedestrian promenade, a Cisterna open lawn area, Cisterna Plaza improvements and 10th Street pedestrian improvements. Cost – $1.644 million