July 03–The Propelling Downtown Forward Plan — a plan to revamp Fort Smith’s downtown — will be up for approval next week by the city’s Board of Directors after about a year of putting it together.
This 113-page plan is the work of Fort Smith nonprofit 64.6 Downtown and Dallas-based consulting firm Gateway Planning and gives an overall vision for ways the city could improve downtown.
The plan seeks to address 10 themes that consistently came up during sessions with people in the community, according to the document. Those themes are
? Downtown needs to be more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, business-friendly and resident-friendly.
? The riverfront needs to be leveraged to make downtown a unique destination in Western Arkansas.
? Apartments, live/work units, townhomes, cottage homes and other residential options should be developed throughout downtown.
? Sidewalks should extend beyond downtown into the adjacent neighborhoods to allow for safe walking and bike conditions.
? Daily amenities such as a small grocery, dry cleaners, convenience shop, gym and café need to come into downtown if people are going to live there.
? The trolley route should be expanded across Garrison Avenue into the Belle Grove Historic District neighborhood to improve connectivity and serve as a people-mover for downtown, not as something that is viewed as solely a tourist attraction.
? Truck traffic down Garrison Avenue and through downtown is a problem because of safety and perception concerns. It should be addressed through a detailed and cooperative process with the trucking companies in downtown to find a solution.
? The development process with the city should be recalibrated and streamlined to enable downtown projects to be implemented in a more collaborative and success-driven manner. The regulatory policies in place today do not keep up with the type of development needed in downtown.
? The Unexpected, along with the murals, have done a lot for downtown but it is time for that investment to be taken to the next level.
? Downtown needs more parks and open spaces for family-friendly activities and events. Fort Smith needs to have a central plaza in addition to the open space along the riverfront.
At a June 13 joint meeting of the Planning Commission, Board of Directors and Central Business Improvement District Commission during which the Planning Commission ultimately voted to recommend the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan to the Board of Directors for final approval, several speakers from the trucking industry spoke in opposition of how the plan would affect the truck route.
The plan states that the truck traffic is a problem because of safety issues it presents to pedestrians and cyclists, noise pollution and air pollution. Some of the options are to preserve the North Fifth Street truck bypass route but force trucks to go either north or south at Fifth Street to prevent truck traffic from continuing on Garrison Avenue and utilizes current street geometries to redirect truck traffic flow; active enforcement of the existing truck route; removal of Riverfront Drive and North A Street from the truck route; and have trucks turn on North Third Street.
“The options presented in this plan are preliminary and subject to testing block-by-block for each route,” the plan reads. “The city and transportation leadership or businesses should partner to run test scenarios on select routes through Downtown at different times throughout the week.”
The plan also includes proposed improvements along Towson Avenue from Garrison Avenue to South D Street including two 11-foot travel lanes in each direction, parallel on-street parking provided along the northbound lanes, 13-foot pedestrian realm with streetscape improvements such as street trees, pavers, lighting and widened sidewalks. Proposed improvements along Towson Avenue from South D Street to Dodson Avenue past Sparks Hospital include two 11-foot travel lanes in each direction, 6-foot bicycle facility on both sides of the roadway, 12-foot pedestrian realm with pedestrian level street lighting, paving, street trees and landscaping and a signed and painted bikeway.
The plan also suggests the creation of a Downtown Board “that represents the private, nonprofit and public sectors across Fort Smith and those also play key roles in the process of achieving the goals of the redevelopment of Downtown Fort Smith.”
For example, some of the suggestions to represent the private sector on the board are representatives from Sparks Regional Medical Center, ArcBest, OK Foods, Arkansas Missouri Railroad, First National Bank, Arkansas Oklahoma Gas and the Downtown Fort Smith Business Association. Some of the suggestions to represent the public sector on the board are representatives from city of Fort Smith, the U.S. Marshals Museum, Fort Smith Public Schools, the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) and Sebastian County. Suggestions for the nonprofit sector include the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, Strategic Community Investments and the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.
The city’s Board of Directors decided June 20 to table the vote on whether to adopt the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan. The board will vote at its regular meeting July 11.
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