I-540-Rogers interchange set for beautification project

story by Ryan Saylor

A project announced at Tuesday's (Dec. 10) Board of Directors meeting will not only improve the appearance of one of the city's busiest intersections, but it could lead to a new city commission tasked with making Fort Smith a city of beauty.

According to Nancy Smreker, president of Beautify Fort Smith, the group has raised about $90,000 in funding to transform the interchange of Rogers Avenue and Interstate 540 into an area landscaped with more than 4,000 shrubs and more than 100 trees.

Funding for the project comes from various groups, including the city of Fort Smith, First National Bank, Arvest Bank, the Family Enterprise Institute at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, Westphal Companies, Steve Forsgren and state turn back funds, she said. Landscape design and installation would be provided by Frank Sharum Landscape Design of Fort Smith.

“(Frank Sharum) has agreed to design this landscape…plant it at less than his cost,” she said. “He's planting 4,400 shrubs and plants, 119 trees, he's installing the sprinkler system, laying Bermuda sod and putting mulch around all of this. I want to say it could not happen without Frank Sharum because he has the eye for the design, but he is also willing to donate above and beyond what anybody would ask him to do.”

While Beautify Fort Smith made news Tuesday with their announced plans for the Rogers Avenue and I-540 interchange, the group has already begun a project on private property along Phoenix Avenue to enhance the street's appearance and is working toward becoming a city commission.

The goal of the commission will be not only beautification but also awareness, according to Director of Sanitation Baridi Nkokheli, whose agency will work with the commission to accomplish its goals and mission.

"The purpose and goal of the (commission), as we see it, will be to create public awareness by involving local citizens in beautification efforts, neighborhood cleanups, litter reduction, and solid waste diversion," he wrote in a memo to the Board. "The (commission) will act as the liaison for the City of Fort Smith with Keep American Beautiful (KAB) and Keep Arkansas Beautiful."

Furthermore, the commission will research and develop strategies for keeping the city's appearance up to standard, targeting areas that fall below set standards with beautification efforts such as littler removal, landscaping and the planting of flowers and trees, Nkokheli said.

"The (commission) will provide the resources and support required to assume the lead in coordinating all interested parties concerned about beautification, litter reduction, and recycling to bring about a concerted effort of all interested parties doing their part to effect real change."

While the commission will receive limited funding from the city, it will also be able to solicit sponsorships to assist in beautification efforts, Nkokheli wrote.

"Sponsors could donate goos such as garbage bags, gloves, and equipment to help with these projects," he said. "The costs associated with these programs would include advertising and producing brochures and/or flyers for promotion."

Additionally, the city's Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes funding for a part-time beautification and recycling coordinator "to administer the work of the committee and serve as a liaison between the City and the volunteer committee," Nkokheli said.


Smreker said all of the work her group plans to do once it is officially a commission of the city, which should happen sometime during mid-2014, would not alter the groups goal – beautifying the city of Fort Smith.

"We feel like the beautification of our city is an economic investment and we really feel like this will draw people to want to live here, to buy into business here, or maybe bring other businesses (from outside Fort Smith to the city) because we want to make the city of Fort Smith a very appealing place to live. Part of that has to do with the beautification."

In other business, the Board met in a special meeting to approve a resolution authorizing City Administrator Ray Gosack to accept an offer made by property owner Steve Beam of $147,500 for property the city is acquiring in connection to the Mill Creek Pump Station and Equalization Tank Project. The Board previously voted down a resolution that would have acquired Beam's property through eminent domain for a rate of $86,000.

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