Ward-Garrison Building in Downtown Fort Smith to be Renovated

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This article was published by the Times Record on January 18, 2016. It was written by John Lovett. You can find the original article here: swtimes.com

By John Lovett
Times Record • jlovett@swtimes.com

Downtown Fort Smith’s historic Ward-Garrison Building at 523 Garrison Ave. is being prepped for a new era this year.

Owners Greg Burrows and Randy Shock are in the final planning stages to renovate the top eight floors of the 11-story building into apartments, with lower floors to be opened up for events and possibly a restaurant with an outdoor balcony.

A gated and covered 75-space parking lot adjacent to the building is also in the plans for what will become changed to the Ward Building.

The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District Commission will hear from HDMS Architects & Interior Designers at the city commission’s monthly meeting at 9:30 a.m. today at the Area Agency on Aging office downtown for approval on certain aspects “multi-million-dollar” project Burrows said.

Standing at least 115-feet tall at the northwest corner of Garrison Avenue and North Sixth Street, the building opened as the Ward Hotel on Dec. 14, 1929, according to Burrows. It later became known as the Ward-Garrison Building and was divided into two other separate addresses, 519 and 521 Garrison Ave., each 7,000-square-feet.

The project will encompass a 74,500 square foot area. Sacred Grounds Coffee Shop became occupied by Coffee.org in November and is expected to remain a first-floor tenant.

“Plans are close to being turned in to the city,” he said. “It’s an important part of Fort Smith history, and it happens to be just the right time to get this conversion project going.

”Architect Tim Dowty of HDMS Architect & Interior Designs in North Little Rock will present plans today that seek approval from the commission on windows, a “New Orleans-style balcony,” and other alterations that will open up space for dining and a fitness center on the second floor. Hicks said a restaurant owner is being sought.

Dowty said his firm is “excited to be working on the project,” its first historic renovation in Fort Smith. HDMS also designed the new Legacy Heights Memory Lane in Van Buren and the Brownwood Life Care Center at Chaffee Crossing, which is expected to be complete by the end of this summer. The architects and designers are also behind dozens of apartment complexes in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas, according to HDMS President Jan Bartlett-Hicks.

There will be at least six apartment units per floor with “custom home finishings,” Dowty said. The owners will replace the three elevators in addition to restoring the second-floor ballroom that previously housed a Fox television network station. Burrows and Shock bought the building in 2005 when it was 70 percent leased. Since then, the TV station has moved out and the building’s “anchor tenant,” Arkhola Sand & Gravel, consolidated with two other companies to form APAC-Central and moved its corporate offices to Fayetteville with local business offices at Fort Smith’s Chaffee Crossing, as well as Springfield, Mo. and Tulsa.

Burrows said he hopes to announce a groundbreaking within the next 45 days with a 12-month construction period that includes nine months to replace the elevators to the tallest building in Fort Smith.

There are both federal and state tax credits for the renovation project available through the Department of Interior and the Arkansas Department of Heritage Commission, Burrows said.

According to a 2012 Times Record column by Ben Boulden, the Friday, Dec. 13, 1929 edition of the Southwest Times Record ran a story on the opening of the Ward Hotel that put the building’s height at about 140 feet with 165 guest rooms.

Downtown residential space also got a boost in 2015 with the completion of Garrison Pointe West and The Breezeway Apartments in the 400 block of Garrison Avenue. The project also boosted Burrows’ confidence in creating more downtown residential space. The commercial office market has gone “soft,” he added.

The city of Fort Smith’s godowntownfs.com offers listings of several other downtown apartments, such as West End Lofts between North A and B streets, and Brunwick Place Apartments on the corner of North 10th and North B streets.

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