Fort Smith Leaders Eye Riverfront for New Development

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

Jayne Hughes, who works with Fort Smith's Central Business Improvement District, said the riverfront development would complement the area's downtown district.

"The opportunity is open for perfect locations with outstanding views for a boutique hotel, upscale retail, dining and corporate office space and possibly residential in the forms of condominiums," she said. "I plan to present to corporate headquarters site selectors first and then go from there."

Gosack said increased residential space downtown spoke well for that type of development along the river.

"The magnificent views of the river should lend themselves to people wanting to live there as well," Gosack said.

Hughes said the marketing package for the locations would be presented to the city board in early 2013.

The riverfront development is the latest phase in the redevelopment of Fort Smith's downtown, which Richard Griffin, chairman of the CBID, said had been in progress for about 40 years. Hughes said about $70 million had been invested downtown since 2005.

"Urban sprawl and shopping malls came in and in the '70s devastated downtowns all over America," Griffin said. "This downtown is pretty vibrant now, with over 100 [commercial] offerings and residential units that are pretty well all full."

Griffin said downtown redevelopment was already occurring when a 1996 tornado destroyed several portions of the downtown district, including several historic buildings that were being restored.

"It really served as a wake-up call," he said. "The commission regrouped and has been active."

Now, downtown is "totally different" than it was in 1996, having cultivated a reputation as a recreation area and acquired its own nightlife. But it's a work-in-progress: Griffin's board is working on getting the last few vacant storefronts occupied as well as beautifying the streets and installing traffic "knuckles" to slow cars down around pedestrians.

"We have a long way to go," Griffin said, "but we've come a long way."



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