Discover the Unexpected
f you have recently enjoyed the pleasure of strolling through downtown Fort Smith’s historic Garrison Avenue, you might have noticed a few unexpected changes. Enormous murals created by international artists are now adorning walls that we once walked past without a second glance. 100 Year old buildings are being reimagined into state of the art corporate headquarters and luxury tenements. Even community and cultural hubs such as music and lifestyle festivals. Coffee and tea shops have begun sprouting roots throughout the neighborhood over the past year. It is impossible to deny that downtown Fort Smith is undergoing a cultural and economic renaissance. This movement to reimagine downtown Fort Smith grew from humble beginnings- a simple question that sparked a revolution.
I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a cup of coffee with John McIntosh of 64.6 Downtown, the man helping lead the charge to reclaim our downtown district.
64.6 Downtown is a nonprofit organization with a vision to “bring vibrancy to downtown Fort Smith and the The Riverfront.” The 64.6 team strongly believes that our downtown district is the heart and soul of the city, it is essential to driving Fort Smith’s future economic, cultural, and community growth. Their efforts are guided by a simple mission: improve downtown for the benefit of the entire community. The group chose be named after the 64.6 square miles of Fort Smith as a testament of their commitment to improve the entire city by focusing on its core.
The incredible 64.6 story begins with simple conversation among friends. John explained that this surge of activity was sparked by a simple question- what if? As John recalls, he was enjoying the company of two close friends, Steve Clark and Claire Kolberg, when a simple question arose. “What if Fort Smith became the unexpected city of murals?” That simple question inspired “The Unexpected Project: Festival of Murals.” 64.6 Knew that Fort Smith was hungry for something new, something exciting, something simply unexpected.
The city needed to open their eyes to the endless possibilities available in our fertile downtown district. As John stated, this isn’t a rebirth or a rejuvenation of downtown. The potential is already here, we simply have to reclaim it. In fact, 64.6 is working to reclaim two vacant lots in the 900 block of Garrison avenue to create Garrison Commons, scheduled to open in June of 2016. The Commons will feature food trucks, a small performance stage, and free outdoor movie screenings.
John is absolutely correct. Downtown is seething with untapped potential. He followed up by pointing out that we are in a time of great architectural redevelopment.
As of our conversation, a total of four historical buildings were being “reclaimed” within downtown area. To name a few: the 102 year old Friedman-Mincer Building has reopened as headquarters to ProPak Logistics. Temple-Live, formerly the Fort Smith Masonic Temple, is to be reopened November 2016 as a multi-purpose events facility with a 1,200 seat theater. The Ward-Garrison will also join the ranks of these reclaimed buildings, with construction to start in the first quarter of 2016. New additions to the Ward-Garrison building will include 60 new apartments with covered parking behind the building.
64.6 Downtown is also focused on growing our community’s culture and commerce by bringing more festivals to Fort Smith. 2016 will introduce the first annual Ales for Trails Music Fest presented by Choctaw Casinos. This domestic and craft beer festival is scheduled to be held in the Harry E. Kelley Riverpark on July 9, 2016. It is a fundraising event presented by 64.6 Downtown with help from members of FORT (Friends of Recreational Trails.) Funds raised will go towards Park Partners, a non-profit working towards development of the trial systems within our city.
2016 is the year to keep a close eye on downtown Fort Smith as it grows into the premier place to work, live, and play.
by CHRIS PERAZA
Chris Peraza is a graduate of the BA Marketing program at University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. When he's not writing, he’s out exploring the Arkansas trail system on his mountain bike and supporting the local craft beer community.
© PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH TREECE