The fact that an election is just weeks away probably helped assemble the dignitaries on hand for last week’s official groundbreaking for the U.S. Marshals Museum on the western, riverfront end of Fort Smith’s Garrison Avenue.
But the museum is not the only commercial development in Fort Smith right now. As Tim Allen, CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, is fond of pointing out, Fort Smith is the site of the biggest economic development announcement of 2014 to date: nearly 1,000 new jobs (by 2021) and a new $30 million headquarters for ArcBest Corp. on the east side of town at Chaffee Crossing.
Chaffee Crossing, the all-new 7,000-acre mixed-use development on part of defunct Fort Chaffee, will also be home to another development that is attracting a lot of attention: the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is expected to open in the spring of 2016.
But back on the west side, where the main street is called Garrison and is wide enough to accommodate an army parade, old and new are finding new life side by side. Within spitting distance of the museum site, two historic properties owned by Griffin Properties of Fort Smith LLC are being renovated.
One is the Fishback Building at 318 Garrison Ave., better known as Adelaide Hall for the ballroom upstairs. First restored by Griffin Properties in 1995 and spared by the tornado that demolished many of its neighbors in 1996, it is now being built out for rent by Bricktown Brewery of Oklahoma City.
“The building itself was built in 1871. That’s six years after the end of the Civil War — think about that,” Richard Griffin, founder of Griffin Properties, said last week.
The original builder was William Meade Fishback, who two decades later would serve one two-year term as governor of Arkansas. Adelaide Hall was named for his wife, and since the renovation has been rented out for special events.
The ground floor has been used for several years by Varsity Sports Grill, but the business was sold in August to Bricktown, which is led by Buck Warfield. The space is being refitted, and while some of the signage calls it a brewpub, no brewing will actually be done on-site, Griffin said. But it will have an outdoor area suitable for musical acts on the west side of the building.
“You see a lot of that on Garrison,” Griffin said.
Bricktown Brewery’s website says the remodeled location will open in October, but no exact date has been announced.
Meanwhile, across the street in the next block, Griffin Properties — now led by Richard Griffin’s son Rick — is turning a row of historic storefronts into a mix of apartments and small retail space.
The two-story brick buildings that sit cheek-by-jowl at 401-411 Garrison will be turned into six one-bedroom apartments and six two-bedroom apartments averaging about 1,000 SF.
“We like to do downtown things,” said Griffin, who will turn 80 in December. “It’s not the best investment I’ve ever made, but I like downtown. I moved here in 1936, so I know all these buildings.”
The buildings date from the 1880s and 1890s, and they share brick “party walls.” One of the ground-floor storefronts will be “sacrificed” for a breezeway running north-south the full depth of the building — about 100 feet.
The project will be called Garrison Point West. It sits immediately west of a ground-up construction project that Griffin Properties completed a couple of years ago, a combination convenience store/liquor store/gas station that is called Garrison Point.
Grand opening of Garrison Point West is expected in January or February, Griffin said.
“Anyone can start a construction project, but it takes a pro to finish,” he said.