Fort Smith Leaders Eye Riverfront for New Development

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Aug. 13, 2012 12:00 am  

Sanders said the ultimate vision for the museum was to have it as part of a "triangular tour," shared with the Clinton Library in Little Rock and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

Gosack said Oklahoma, with its National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City and the Thomas Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, would fit in as well, creating something of a museum corridor between the two states.

Dunn said he was a "frequent visitor" to Arkansas' other cities with major museum development.

Bentonville and Little Rock are "beehives of activity with both economic development and jobs. Each of those two other attractions is materially different from the Marshals Museum, and that's good, not bad: We will appeal to a different group of tourists who, once here, will be likely to go onto Little Rock or Bentonville, or both. Likewise, those tourists that those attractions appeal to will be inclined to come to Fort Smith to see this national museum."

Dunn said a 2009 study showed the museum could draw up to 115,000 visitors per year, and that was without calculating traffic from Little Rock or Bentonville.

"I think any reasonable estimate now would be significantly higher," Dunn said. He also noted that the museum would likely bring in direct payroll results of about $1 million a year and the project would result in a "significant source of income, development and jobs for downtown Fort Smith."

$2.1 Million Investment

The groundwork for the riverfront commercial district is now being laid.

"The city's investing in water and sewer infrastructure along the riverfront," Gosack said. "It's a $2.1 million investment that will be finished in May of next year."

The investment will prepare about 100 acres for mixed-use development with the museum serving as an anchor, Sanders said. The city, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Westphal Group, which owns the property, are jointly marketing the property for development.

"Also on the riverfront, we've got a 6-mile trail that connects to a park along the riverfront," Gosack said. "Eventually that will connect into more trails on the east side of the city, but we haven't developed those trails yet."

That project will also lead to a 51-acre $20 million sports complex at Chaffee Crossing, Gosack said, which will be funded using a 1 percent sales tax renewed in March. Gosack said Fort Smith had a big demand for soccer, volleyball and softball tournaments, and the complex, with a tentative completion date of spring 2014, would enhance tourism.



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