Work was approved Tuesday by the Fort Smith Central Improvement District Commission to create space at the former Shipley Bakery downtown for a microbrewery's taproom.

A portion of the former bakery at 63 S. Sixth St. was approved for demolition as part of a variance request by KMW Properties to install metal panels on some of the facades. CBID Chairman Bill Hanna owns the property across from his family’s business, Hanna Oil & Gas.

Part of the property will continue to be used as an events center, and bathrooms are being added to serve both the event center space and a microbrewery's taproom.

About 1,500-square feet of the building's southern side is slated for demolition to facilitate the use of an existing loading dock. Exterior renovations will also include a new deck and courtyard area and landscaping. The previous extension of the trolley line created a need for the demolition to have better truck access to the property.

Shannon Reith, project architect and partner at Studio 6 Architects in Fort Smith, also showed the CBID commissioners plans for the courtyard and materials to be used.

Hanna has been in talks with a variety of brewers for the past year and has chosen an established northwest Arkansas microbrewery that best fits his vision for the space. He is not at liberty to name the microbrewery who would test the waters for a possible brewery with a taproom in the old bakery.

Reith noted it will likely be several months before plans are submitted to the Fort Smith Building Safety Division for a building permit. He is in the process with Petree Construction of Fort Smith to finalize details.

“It’s going to be an exciting addition to Fort Smith,” Reith said. “Maybe by the end of the summer or this fall you’ll start to see work down there.”

Traffic study, form-based code

The CBID also approved the allocation of $20,000 to help fund a downtown traffic study in coordination with the city of Fort Smith. About $40,000 more is needed for the study. The city has $100,000 committed to the project associated with the Propelling Downtown Forward initiative.

The traffic study and a form-based code for affordable residential space are high on the agenda for 64.6 Downtown as part of the Propelling Downtown Forward initiative, according to Talicia Richardson, executive director of the nonprofit group.

All traffic downtown is part of the study, but truck traffic, in particular, has been talked about the most during the Propelling Downtown Forward planning stages due to the number of state roads in downtown. Enhancements like countdown clocks at crosswalks have been made by the city to improve walkability, Richardson noted, but there are other things to be done that include directional green lights and better signage to keep big trucks on the truck route and not backing up traffic at peak times.

There is a difference between “affordable housing” and “low-income housing,” Richardson added. More affordable housing downtown will be the driver for more development and business, she says.

Form-based code also would help create more residential space that fits in with a downtown lifestyle of less reliance on vehicles and help push for a more walkable environment. Currently, zoning requirements call for two parking spaces to each housing unit.

Although it was not expected for every tenant to have two vehicles in a Fort Smith Housing Authority project called Ninth Street Cottages, the plans were not approved by the Planning Commission because some of the parking spaces were off-street and some were on-street. The Housing Authority had asked for a variance to decrease the number of parking spaces for the 12-unit cottage from 24 to 18. A form-based code would have allowed for this kind of development by applying discretion in areas instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. The commission was deadlocked at four and four on the Ninth Street Cottages plan.

“Our focus now is on assisting the city as much as we can in getting form-based code and the traffic study,” Richardson said. “As soon as we can get that done, that will be a huge check off the list and we can take that to developers to show the city of Fort Smith has a policy to back it up, and data.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s recommendation of downtown Fort Smith as an “opportunity zone” may also help development by extending capital gains through potential investors in these areas. Richardson and many others in economic development are still waiting for the IRS guidelines that will be applied to the opportunity zones.

“Once those are available, I think you’ll start to see things happen,” Richardson said of the IRS guidelines for the opportunity zones.

As seen in a map provided by the governor’s office through 64.6 Downtown, much of Van Buren was nominated as an opportunity zone, as well as much of southeast Franklin County, and pieces of Logan and Polk counties.