Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Fort Smith to take over facility leased by UAFS

- THOMAS SACCENTE Thomas Saccente can be reached by email at

FORT SMITH — The city will lease a downtown building that officials said will be a good place for holding their public meetings.

The city Board of Directors voted 6-1 Tuesday to assume the lease of the Blue Lion, owned by the Central Business Improvemen­t District and, up to now, leased by the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. The board also agreed to spend $118,022 to lease and operate the facility for this year.

At-Large Position 7 City Director Neal Martin cast the dissenting vote, saying while he liked the idea of using the Blue Lion for meetings, he wasn’t comfortabl­e with the cost.

The city administra­tion had been looking for a place to hold meetings, including those for the board and Planning Commission, as well as administra­tive staff meetings after the pandemic, Deputy City Administra­tor Jeff Dingman wrote in a memo. The Blue Lion, at 101 N. Second St., could also be used as office space for Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau staff and storage.

The city began holding its meetings at the convention center at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Board meetings previously were held at the School District’s Service Center, while board study sessions were held at the public library.

The School District notified the city last fall that it could not return to using the Service Center.

Dingman said the city doesn’t want to continue meeting in large rooms in the convention center that could be rented out.

The Blue Lion has 10,000 square feet on its first floor and an 8,000-square-foot basement.

The space also will allow the city to set up a permanent system for recording and televising meetings, Dingman said.

The university informed the Central Business Improvemen­t District in January it no longer needed the facility. Chancellor Terisa Riley said Tuesday the university didn’t use the Blue Lion space enough to warrant the expense of its lease.

A university budget subcommitt­ee recommende­d discontinu­ing the lease and using the money for the school’s Center for Economic Developmen­t.

Riley accepted the recommenda­tion, with the center to open in the Bakery District at 70 S. Seventh St. in downtown this October.

The Central Business Improvemen­t District Commission approved letting the university assign the lease for the Blue Lion to the city during a special meeting Tuesday morning.

The lease dictates a rent of $5,408 per month for 15 years.

The resolution commits the city to paying a $10 assignment considerat­ion fee and the $5,408 monthly rent beginning in April. The lease will end in 2027, by which point the city will have made 73 payments totaling $394,784 and could purchase the building for $10, according to the lease. An appraised value of $553,589 was set on the property in 2020.

The city will also pay an estimated $19,350 over the remaining nine months of the year for property insurance, utilities and janitorial services, Dingman wrote.

The city also plans to purchase the sound system and lighting equipment and furniture for an estimated $30,000. A further $20,000 in estimated costs will come from installing a board dais and additional audiovisua­l equipment. All of these costs add up to $118,022 for 2021.

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